Seeing the Orioles in the record books is always fun, as long as it's for a good record. Unfortunately, there are also those distinctions that O's fans would all rather that the franchise not hold. Chief among these is the record for futility to start a baseball season, the seemingly-insurmountable awfulness of the 1988 Orioles, who started that season off by going 0-21.
I was alive at that time, though very young, so I don't remember much about it myself, but I've certainly heard about it plenty from my dad. Cal Ripken Sr. getting fired from the team that had both of his sons. That was after only six games. They kept on losing. They lost blowouts, they lost one run games, they lost in extra innings, they lost on a walkoff. They lost at night and during the day, at home and on the road.
The constant was the losing. Well, the losing and Bob Rivers, then the morning show host for 98 Rock, staying on air after vowing not to stop broadcasting until the Orioles won a game. Rivers said this after they were already 0-11 and for another ten games, 258 hours in all, he stayed on air. This is a real thing that happened.
At the beginning of every baseball season is a fresh reminder of the futility of those 1988 Orioles. Inevitably, some bad team will lose their first few games, a long enough losing streak that when people start talking about them, it's always, "A team hasn't lost X many games in a row to start a season since the 1988 Orioles opened up the season by going 0-21."
It's a lot like the 30-3 drubbing by the Rangers back in 2007. That's not how you'd like the Orioles to be remembered, and yet, every time there is a preposterously high scoring game, the pundits remind us of it, as if we could ever forget.
Even for a bad baseball team, it's hard to lose that many games in a row at all, let alone that many right out of the gate. Baseball's most recent example of a horrible team that was trying to be bad, the 2013 Houston Astros, went 51-111, an unbelievably awful .312 winning percentage. Yet even these sad sacks "only" lost 15 games in a row - and that at season's end, rather than season's beginning.
While the 2016 O's chase towards a record winning streak was halted on Wednesday night, there are still two teams who are on the road towards destiny with the 1988 O's. The Braves as well as the Twins have started off this season with an 0-9 record. They're almost halfway there, though that's still a long way to go. Hopefully no radio hosts in the Twin Cities or in Atlanta follow the Rivers path.
The case for the Twins
Those two teams are horrible in different ways. Minnesota has scored only 14 runs in its first nine games. That's six runs fewer than the next-worst-scoring team in MLB.
These are bad baseball teams, but are they bad enough to take the crown away from the 1988 O's and free Baltimore sports fans from having our favorite team be the one infamous for losing? Probably not. It's hard to be that bad.
Still, if it was going to happen, a team like the Twins, which has exactly two of its nine regulars batting with an OPS+ above 76, might be the team that would do it. The OPS+ stat measures a player's OPS, plus a park and league adjustment, against the average for the league.
The third-best Twins hitter is 24% WORSE than the average AL hitter. That's really bad. It gets worse; they entered Thursday's games with four regular players sporting an OPS+ of 30 or lower. That's 70% worse than the average player, and there are four guys like that. They got four hit on Thursday, so that number has not improved.
Also, their closer, Glen Perkins, is on the disabled list with shoulder problems. Perkins has been an All-Star for the past three seasons in a row.
For the Twins to tie the 1988 Orioles, they'd have to go on to get swept by the Angels at home, the Brewers at home and on the road (four games, two in each city), the Nationals on the road, and then lose two games to the Indians at home. To pass the 1988 Orioles they'd have to get swept in that last series by the Indians. They have a lot of losing yet to do.
The case for the Braves
Atlanta is also afflicted with an anemic offense (24 runs in nine games) but their biggest problem is their pitching staff: 55 runs allowed in nine games. Other than the Rockies, who can probably blame Coors Field, no team in MLB has allowed more runs.
They might have some even worse hitters than the Twins, which is saying something. Heading into their Thursday loss in Washington, the Braves had five of their eight regular batters sporting an OPS+ of 40 or lower. That includes two players who had matching OPS+ numbers of 4.
This is a team that is trying to be bad. They've slashed their payroll by $26 million since Opening Day two years ago. They are fleeing their 20-year-old stadium for a place in the suburbs that isn't connected to mass transit and may require fans to play Frogger to go from the parking lot to the actual stadium. They don't care about winning this year.
The Braves starting rotation is also, thus far, bad. Bud Norris is their #2 starter. That's not a joke. He has only made two starts so far, so it's a small sample size, of course, but still: His ERA is 6. Four of the five Braves starters are sporting ERAs at or above 5. OK, Matt Wisler is at 4.97; close enough. Three others are higher than that. Geez.
Their bullpen could well be just as bad. They've got three relievers sitting with ERAs of 6.75 or higher after nine games. That includes former Oriole Jim Johnson, who's surrendered four runs in 3.2 innings of work so far this year.
If the Braves were going to tie the 1988 Orioles, they would have to go on to get swept by the Marlins on the road, then lose three in a row each at home to the Dodgers and Mets, then go on to lose three to the Red Sox (two at home and one on the road). If they were to then lose a fourth game to the Red Sox, they would be at 0-22 and the 1988 O's would be off the hook forever.
It's asking a lot for either one of these teams to prove themselves to be the equal of the 1988 Orioles when it comes to futility, but they've given in a good run so far and maybe they can keep it up.
I'll be rooting for them every day - to keep losing. Let someone else have a turn at that particular record for a while. It's been our burden to bear for long enough.