Petco Park

A general view as the Houston Astros play against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Petco Park on August 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images/TNS)

LOS ANGELES – During the baseball season, Dodgers players rarely stay in Los Angeles for more than 10 days at a time. If the Dodgers advance to the World Series, they could stay in Arlington, Texas, for as many as 25 consecutive days.

The postseason bubble is set, and the schedule announced Tuesday includes a major strategic wrinkle: the elimination of off days during the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The bubble plan, designed to maximize the chances of completing the playoffs during a pandemic, requires no travel during a series. The elimination of travel days in every round but the World Series puts an emphasis on pitching depth and all but kills the chance of a team imitating what the Washington Nationals did to win last year's National League championship series, when six pitchers combined to work 33 of the 36 innings.

The Dodgers are expected to clinch a postseason spot this week. If they win the National League West for the eighth consecutive season, they likely would earn the top seed in the NL. That would enable them to play the best-of-three first round entirely at Dodger Stadium and, if they win, to play the rest of the postseason in the Texas Rangers' new ballpark in Arlington.

This year's playoffs feature a 16-team field. As of Tuesday, two teams with losing records would make the playoffs – the Houston Astros in the American League, and the San Francisco Giants in the NL – with the Dodgers facing the Giants in the first round based on current standings.

The AL playoffs are scheduled to start Sept. 29 and the NL playoffs on Sept. 30. On that one day – Sept. 30 – MLB will stage eight postseason games.

The best-of-three first round would be played entirely at the home ballpark of the higher seed. The rest of the postseason would be played at neutral sites.

In the NL, the higher seed would be the home team for a division series in Arlington, with the other NLDS at Houston's Minute Maid Park. The NLCS would be played in Arlington.

In the AL, the higher seed would be the home team for a division series at San Diego's Petco Park, with the other ALDS at Dodger Stadium. The ALCS would be played in San Diego.

The World Series, in Arlington, would start on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

In Texas, where fans are allowed to attend sporting events in limited numbers, Rangers executive vice president Sean Decker told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week: "We're not having fans because Major League Baseball won't allow us."

Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking Monday to a Hofstra University business school group, said he was optimistic that fans might attend some postseason games. A league official said Manfred would anticipate fans attending postseason games in Texas, but not in California.

"I'm hopeful that the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity," Manfred said, in comments reported by the Athletic. "I think it's important for us to start back down the road. Obviously it'll be limited numbers, socially distanced, protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the like. Kind of the pods like you saw in some of the NFL games. We'll probably use that same theory. But I do think it's important as we look forward to 2021 to get back to the idea that live sports, they're generally outdoors, at least our games. And it's something that we can get back to."

The commissioner's office is expected to consult with the players' union about the possibility of playing with fans in attendance. Under current health and safety protocols, social distancing is facilitated by dispersing players and staff among some of what would otherwise be considered the best seats in the house.

Rangers spokesman John Blake told The Los Angeles Times that MLB would make the final decision on whether to allow fans at ALCS and World Series games.

The Dallas Cowboys play in a stadium adjacent to the Rangers' ballpark, and the Cowboys are expected to have a limited number of fans in attendance Sunday. Two NFL teams played last week in stadiums restricted to 25% of capacity.

Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University, said it is almost certain that a crowd of thousands would include someone infected with the coronavirus, given that health screenings and temperature checks likely would not detect asymptomatic carriers.

"We still don't have rigorous enough testing and contact tracing to be confident we're catching every outbreak that actually happens at a stadium," Binney said.

"I don't think I'll be convinced by October this is a safe thing to do, or that the risks are outweighed by the benefits. Is the revenue really going to make a difference to baseball?"

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