MLB had hoped it would be able to piggyback off the return of baseball in Japan and South Korea in order to start the regular season but virus delays in Asia suggest that might not happen quite so soon.  Leagues in both of the countries had already been postponed because of the coronavirus, but started to make returns that had baseball fans in the US hopeful they would soon see action locally.

However, it now looks as though both Japan and South Korea are rethinking their positions, and further delays could be coming.  With that being the case, and with COVID-19 not willing to let go of its grip on the US, MLB might have to wait a little longer.

Virus Delays South Korea Baseball

South Korea’s Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) was expecting to start up this past weekend.  However, the global pandemic is forcing the league to take extra precautions, and, at a meeting of its board of governors determined that April 21 was a more realistic start date.  They’re going to continue to monitor the situation and could push back the first games even further, but are determined to conduct the full season.

The KBO has 144 games on the schedule, and the board, which is made up of the presidents of the ten teams in the league, is considering condensing the season to compensate for any lost days, ultimately concluding the year only slightly behind the original timeframe if possible.  During Tuesday’s meeting, though, the presidents acknowledged that the league might have to postpone its Opening Day once again and, if it does, the season would be cut in order to keep to the regular schedule, which ends in November.

If the games can begin on May 5, then teams will play 135 games each, and the season will draw to a close on November 10.  If another delay is necessary, then a May 29 start date has been proposed, which would cut the number of games down to 108.  This alternative would allow for a November completion of the season, as well.

Three Japanese Baseball Players Struck By The Coronavirus

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the primary baseball league in the country, had been willing to get its season going and had even played a few games.  No fans were allowed to attend, but at least it was a consolation to have players on the field.  However, it turned out to be a false start, as three players on the same team have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The trio all belong to the Hanshin Tigers club, and the diagnosis caught everyone by surprise.  The NPB had thought it had done everything possible to ensure it offered a clean playing environment, but the virus was still able to sneak through all the controls that were put in place.  As a result, the April 24 Opening Day now seems highly doubtful.

Japan’s NPB teams normally play 143 games each.  That goal is now doubtful, as a season extension is not a likely alternative.  Instead, some games will probably need to be cut to allow the regular season to end on roughly the same schedule as usual.  Team leaders are expected to get together tomorrow to determine how they proceed and whether or not to delay the season launch past April 24.

With virus delays in Asia all but guaranteed at this point.  The final decision will come in tomorrow’s meeting, but executives from NPB’s Central League got together today and, determining that the “situation is getting worse” in the country, decided that they would support a change of date should the league come to that conclusion.

What Will Happen with MLB?

The NBA believes it can get its season going in May or June.  MLB, at least the league’s commissioner, is optimistic that it can get going around the same timeframe, with commissioner Rob Manfred telling ESPN’s SportsCenter, “Look, my optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we’ll be gearing back up. We’ll have to make a determination, depending on what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need. Whether that preparation period is going to be done in the clubs’ home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. Again, I think the goal would be to get as many regular-season games as possible, and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.”

Currently, the idea is to reduce the number of regular season games in order to try to keep the MLB schedule intact.  However, baseball fans have to be prepared for additional changes, and its possible that the postseason end up starting sometime in November.  At this point, all options have to be considered, including the possibility of the season being canceled completely if COVID-19 can’t be brought under control.