Royals and Orioles Lockstep on the Wrong Side of History
If the Baltimore Orioles lose today, they will have eight losing streaks of five games or longer this year. They are on pace to post a 45–117 record. The Kansas Royals have bookended their season by opening the year losing fourteen of their first seventeen, and have lost twenty five of their last twenty nine. They are on pace to go 46–116. They will join hands and march together into the list of the five teams with the most losses in a major league season.
That is not really breaking news to you. But as the discussions of tanking in baseball swirl, the sad fact is that these two decrepit ball clubs cannot even be included in that discussion, because neither team tried in any way to tank this season. Despite that they sit playing well under .300 baseball, and only one other team is even under .400. That is the White Sox, who hold a 5–2 record against Kansas City.
A look at the Baltimore newspapers at the end of spring training showed some real signs of optimism. In the offseason, the Orioles had not discarded any players, including star free-agent-to-be Manny Machado, and they actually signed one of the top free agent pitchers available in Alex Cobb. The Baltimore Sun looked forward to the season by saying “The Orioles will be worth paying attention to…..they’re projected to win 71 games by Pecota and 75 by FanGraphs….but the pieces are in place to overcome that”.
The Royals openly shouted from the highest buildings, or at least the high office of Dayton Moore, that they abhorred even the thought of tanking, and went out and doubled down over and over by signing back of couple of their expected losses in Mike Moustakus and Alcides Escobar, and inking a passel of veteran free agents like Lucas Duda, John Jay, Ryan Goins and Abraham Almonte.
It all went to hell right away for both squads. The opened with identical 8–21 records. But on that May 1st date they were joined in the under .380 win percentage club by openly proud tankers like Miami, Cincinnati, and San Diego (although the Padres were considered on the upswing of their movement). So maybe you would think that the Birds and KC would right the ship a bit while the true purposeful losers would keep on stinking.
Uhhh, no….. 8–21 is a .276 winning percentage, absolute dumpster fire stuff. But the Orioles have managed to keep exactly that pace going, currently .276 fifty eight games hence, and the Royals have managed to edge them out by one measly game. Meanwhile the Marlins have continued to be mediocre, but better (.410), the Padres have been respectable (.458), and the Reds have been downright good, 32–26, and winners of fourteen of their last eighteen.
The upshot here is that what the Royals are Orioles are doing is REALLY, REALLY hard to do. Last year only the Tigers are Giants played under .400 ball, and they were ONE GAME under the threshold. Since 2013 only six teams total have posted records under .400, most just barely and the worst record was .364 by the 2016 Twins, the only team in the period to lose 100 or more games.
These teams have come about this honestly, they stink all over the place. Last and next to last in offense in all of baseball (yes even behind all the NL teams with the pitchers batting) and last and third to last in all of baseball in pitching. Just to throw a little salt on that open wound, it’s the Royals who have both last spots covered.
While we are flogging away at a very dead horse, it looks even gloomier still because it looks like these teams are years away from relevance. They entered the season with the Orioles at 23rd in farm system rankings, and the Royals (ahem) last. Both teams should get a little bump from trades, the Royals already have, Manny Machado is still to be dealt for the Birds, but it is bleak. Heck, it was hard to get worked up over some of those vets playing for KC since they generally weren’t blocking ANYBODY.
Hey, let’s touch on an area where the Royals have the edge…..and it’s a big one. The Royals have rings on their fingers, the biggest trophy in their case, and an epic parade still easy to remember. It’s hard to believe that these two teams met for the AL crown just four years ago, the Royals sweep starting the Orioles downturn. The Orioles also are going to have to try and do their rebuild in the AL East.
But let’s also be fair that in judging this years calamities, the Royals have managed to stay neck and neck (ankle and ankle???) with Baltimore while playing in the woebegone AL Central, where the other four squads are 89 games under .500, while the Orioles are operating in the East, where their competition is 52 games over.
But because of the still pretty fresh memory of the title, the Royals are kind of getting off scott free. I get it, but they are lucky to have fans who had great fun after years of misery, and supporters who are generally tolerant to begin with. There is zero excuse for being this bad, and none for immediately returning fans to the cesspool of baseball so quickly.
It’s a blog for another time to go down the list of reasons, but while patience is there right now for the Boys in Blue, it’s seems very likely that I will be writing a column in three years, and the Royals will still be quite bad, and people will have become more angry.
It is a challenge perhaps greater than he even faced before for Dayton Moore to accelerate the process somehow, and not have that happen.