After 35 games, it’s safe to say that the Orioles are not a good team this season. Just how bad they actually are is still to be determined. For some foolish reason, even though I have watched a lot of them, I persist in believing that they are probably not so bad that they should have the worst record in all of MLB. I need to believe this because the O’s current 8-27 record puts them on pace to win 37 games all season and I don’t want that to happen.
A 37-win season would be worse, by a long way, than everybody’s current benchmark for failure for the Orioles franchise, the 1988 team. It would be a tough task to be worse than a team that started out 0-21, saw its manager who was the father of two players fired, and who, at season’s end, had both the worst offense and the worst pitching staff in the entire American League. Even these jokers should be better than a 54-107 record.
Things are not as bad as that quite yet, if only because the 1988 O’s, through 35 games, were a 5-30 team. They lost their 35th game just as the Orioles did last night, except they lost 8-0, with 1983 postseason hero Mike Boddicker continuing his early-season struggles and the lineup, other than Cal Ripken Jr., also continuing an early-season slump.
Thanks to the magic of Baseball Reference, you can go back and read that box score to see some ugly stuff. Boddicker, the Opening Day starter, ended the game with a 5.83 ERA. Future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, batting cleanup, had a .227/.273/.355 batting line at game’s end.
Worse than Murray were DH Larry Sheets with a .568 OPS, and at the bottom of the lineup, catcher Terry Kennedy with a .442 OPS and second baseman Billy Ripken with a .440 OPS. The team had already had five games where they gave up 10+ runs, which was a much harder thing to do 30 years ago, and they were blown out (5+ run deficit) in 10 of their 35 games up to that point.
The triumph of the team having won the 1983 World Series must have seemed very far away then, just as any good feelings from the team having dominated the AL East in 2014 seem quite far away now. I was alive for this, but I was only four so I don’t remember it. The fact that 50,402 fans showed up at Memorial Stadium on a Monday night in May to welcome the team back from a 12-game road trip during which they finally won their first game blows my mind.
Unfortunately, the 2018 Orioles are bad enough that they are starting to invite comparisons to that disaster of a team. We heard this starting to creep in on the recent winless road trip, with those media members in possession of game notes observing that the Orioles hadn’t had such a long road losing streak since 1988, when they lost 13 road games in a row as part of the 0-21 start.
When a quirky O’s stat or fact hearkens back to 1988, it’s probably not going to be good. That’s where the Orioles are now. Sometimes, on an individual basis, they’re even worse, like when the statisticians scrambled to react to Dylan Bundy’s disaster on Tuesday night and it turned out that since 1900, the beginning of baseball’s “modern” era, no pitcher had ever allowed four home runs without recording an out.
The good news, such as it is, is that the 1988 Orioles did not win their eighth game until they had an 8-34 record, so as long as the current team doesn’t lose their next seven games on top of the current losing streak, they will at least stay ahead of that team’s pace, for now. The 1988 O’s hit double-digit wins in their 48th game. That’s about the only piece of consolation there is at this point: They aren’t as bad as the 1988 team, yet.
After that 8-0 loss on May 14, 1988, things started to get better for some of the 1988 O’s. By season’s end, the early ugly totals from Murray were in the past as he finished the year with a .284/.361/.474 batting line. At catcher, Mickey Tettleton would start to play more, hitting much better than Kennedy, with a .261/.330/.424 at season’s end. Joe Orsulak, another struggler in that early May lineup, also went on to finish the season with solid numbers.
The O’s traded Boddicker that July, as he’d rebounded to a 3.86 ERA. That’s less impressive then than now, but it was enough of a recovery to net two players: Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. Although the O’s themselves never got the most out of Schilling - nor did the Astros, who acquired him from the O’s in the infamous Glenn Davis trade - it’s safe to say that the O’s picked up a couple of future big leaguers there.
The 1988 O’s were a bad baseball team, no doubt. Yet even they weren’t as bad as their 1-22 record at the end of April. Things got relatively better. We can only hope this year’s O’s have some recovery ahead of them. There’s certainly room for it.
Soon, the slumping Anthony Santander can be replaced with someone else. Even Joey Rickard would be better than this. Jonathan Schoop is back from the disabled list - he, too, is due to ascend from the depths of a slump. Adam Jones is capable of better, and even the awful-looking Chris Davis simply can’t be this bad. Can he? Please, don’t actually be this bad, Davis.
On the pitching side of things, the O’s at least have Kevin Gausman and Alex Cobb apparently trending in the right direction. I know, don’t get me started on Bundy. Eventually, they will stop giving Chris Tillman chances - I need to believe this - and try “anyone not named Tillman,” who would be hard-pressed to be worse. The bullpen... I don’t know. Zach Britton will be back soon. That’s something.
As bad as things got during the 1998-2011 dark years, the Orioles never lost 100 games in any of those seasons. They need to go at least 55-72 from here on to avoid 100 losses and a mere 47-79 to stay ahead of the 1988 Orioles team. I think they should be able to do that. Probably. I guess. I’m going to go cry now.