This long Orioles season will mercifully enter its final month later this week, and September will define just how historically bad this 2018 baseball team really is. If things continue to slide, the ’18 Orioles could end up with the worst winning percentage of any team in more than 50 years.
Comparisons for the worst team in MLB history often start and end with the New York Mets of 1962 – the inaugural year for Casey Stengel’s team that finished 40-120 for a clean, but rotten .250 winning percentage. They were bad but not the worst. Two other teams, the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics and the 1935 Boston Braves, place ahead of the Mets for the lowest W-L % on record in the modern era (since 1901).
In 1916, an Athletics pitcher by the name of Bullet Joe Bush was discredited with losing 24 of his team’s 117 defeats. Hall of Famer, 41-year-old Nap Lajoie manned second base for Philadelphia that year, but he was a shell of his former self, slashing just .246/.272/.312 in the final year of his career. The Athletics finished with a .235 W-L % and a 36-117 record.
The 1935 Braves made a valiant effort to eclipse the Athletics’ performance, playing to an anemic 38-115 record for a .248 W-L %. Wally Berger provided most of the team’s offense, much like Manny Machado did for the Orioles this year, astonishingly accounting for 34 of the Braves’ 75 homeruns and 130 of its 544 RBIs. Interestingly, Babe Ruth contributed six dingers for the ’35 Braves – his last season in the majors.
Unlike Machado, Berger stayed in Boston with the sinking ship, carrying the offense on his shoulders the whole year. Of course, the same thing can’t be said about Manny who was traded to the Dodgers at the July trade deadline, cementing the fate for the ‘18 Orioles. Losing your only legitimate offensive threat is too much for any team to overcome, and the void from Manny’s exit grows wider each day.
Despite breaking their eight-game losing streak last night, the imploding 2018 Orioles are well on their way to record-book notoriety. They have lost 15 of their last 18 games and are 52 games behind the first-place Red Sox. The Orioles’ 38-94 record equates to a .288 W-L % – a rate that would rank them 15th worst on the all-time list and third worst since the start of the expansion era in 1961.
Their last 30 games of the year will determine just how badly the Orioles will place among the worst teams of all time. They need to win just one more game to avoid the worst ever W-L %, and three wins will save them from being second on the list. But even if they don’t descend to depths that the ’16 Athletics and ’35 Braves did all those years ago, the Orioles have an excellent chance of finishing with a worse record than the truly modern-day 2003 Detroit Tigers.
That was the Tigers’ second year of their rebuild with Dave Dombrowski at the helm in the front office. He was brought to Detroit to turn around eight straight losing seasons in the Motor City, but success was still a few years away. The ’03 Tigers’ .265 W-L % was a result of a 43-119 record – just one defeat shy of tying the ’62 Mets’ loss total.
The Orioles are currently on a pace to finish the season at 47-115, which would be just four games ahead of the Tigers. But the way the Birds have played recently, it’s possible they will struggle to win six more games this season to surpass Detroit. Of course, anything can happen in this relatively short time frame and they still have two, three-game series with the Royals and White Sox.
We’ll all know soon enough how the final chapter of the 2018 Orioles will read. Even a strong finish will result in a bad ending for the entire season, but a poor one could prominently place the Orioles in the record books.
Perhaps the seven runs they scored last night is a sign that their bats are waking up. But if the offense continues its season-long inability to get on base with any consistency, the losses will likely follow. Through Sunday’s games, the Orioles combined OBP was just .297, which could put them among a select group of underachievers if that stat doesn’t improve by season’s end.
Using Baseball References’ Play Index feature, the Orioles would become just the fifth team ever – and the first since the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies – to end the year with both on-base and win-loss percentages below .300. The other three teams on the list played in 1909 and 1904. Now, that’s historically bad.