It sure didn’t take long for COVID-19 to remind us that this virus is still not in the rearview mirror! Just days after NPB announced its June 19th Opening Day, two players were found to have tested positive. Reigning Central League MVP Hayato Sakamoto and his Giants teammate Takumi Oshiro tested positive after the entire team (as well as staff) had antibody tests done. Four people in the organization were found to have the antibody in their systems, and these two underwent a PCR and tested positive for coronavirus. However, both were believed to have been carrying the virus for a significant period of time, and that the virus is extremely unlikely to spread to others. The guys have been isolated and all 27 people believed to have been in close contact with them in recent days had PCR tests done. All tested negative.
As for how the season is expected to shake down… all teams will open the year on June 19 and both leagues are planning to play a 120-game schedule. It will end sometime at the end of October or start of November, and Game 7 of the Japan Series is scheduled for November 30.
For the time being, the Central is attempting to give teams longer periods of stay in Tokyo (e.g., Hiroshima will play the Giants, Swallows and BayStars in one foul swoop). the Pacific League is experimenting with six-game series that will run from Tuesday through Sunday, all in the same stadium. Both of these plans will lessen the amount of travel teams need to do. Right now, the CL has released its schedule through July 23, and the PL’s is decided through July 19. The rest of the schedule will be released in due time.
The league also has determined that if the virus is properly contained, fans could be allowed into stadiums as early as July 10. There will be a 5,000 fan maximum at first, but that will incrementally grow if progress continues to be made.
One more rule change has been implemented for 2020 in order to ease the amount of travel teams (and individual players) need to do. The number of players on the bench will increase from 25 to 26, and the number allowed on the top-squad roster from 29 to 31. Also, while the number of foreigners allowed in any given game is still four, teams are allowed to carry five imports on the top roster. This will allow for shuffling two import starters into the rotation without worrying about promotion/demotion rules, or beef up the bullpen with an extra foreigner.
Just 11 short days until the 2020 season will be underway! Get your Pacific League TV subscription or scramble to find CL streaming services! (Most teams have one, but they have no united package, unfortunately.)