Seven major league teams stumble toward 100 losses
Defeats add up in rebuilds, tankings
“If you get to the promised land, it doesn’t matter how you got there,” says the Royals’ Danny Duffy, about following in the Astros’ footsteps.
It seemed so simple when the Astros did it: Strip-mine the major league club, rack up 100-loss seasons while saving money and accumulating high draft picks, and pivot to championship-caliber baseball when the time was right.
Yet as the 2018 Major League Baseball season unfolds, it appears there’s no such thing as a trustworthy process.
One year after the Astros claimed a World Series title just four years removed from three consecutive 100-loss seasons, baseball is flush with terrible teams. A staggering seven ballclubs were on pace to lose 100 games, exceeding the combined total from the past seven seasons.
Not since 2002 have as many as three teams lost 100 games, but that mark will be in peril this season. In order of putridity, the White Sox (10-27), Orioles (1328), Reds (14-27), Royals (13-27), Marlins (14-26), Padres (16-26) and Rangers (16-26) were on track to lose between 100 and 119 games.
With the season one-quarter finished for most teams, things can surely get better. In fact, the Orioles won for the fifth time in seven games May 13 while the Reds had reeled off six in a row against the Mets and Dodgers.
But the cyclical gains made by many of these clubs very well could be nullified by roster deletions before the July 31 trade deadline. All but the White Sox and Padres are already doublefigure games out of first place, and all are looking up at three or four teams in their division.
Is tanking to blame? Largely, but not entirely.
The process popularized by the Astros and, to a lesser extent, the Cubs in winning World Series championships has been mimicked to various degrees.
“It worked for them,” Royals lefty Danny Duffy, a holdover from their 2015 championship club, said of the Astros. “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. If you get to the promised land and you win, it doesn’t matter how you got there.”
The big losers of 2018 find themselves mired in various points of the process, and some illustrate the perils of getting in too deep.
The Orioles? Avoiding a rebuild as long as possible, as they make one more (apparently futile) run with franchise player Manny Machado and several other key free agents-to-be.
The Rangers? Like the Orioles, undercut by an ineffective pitching staff and stuck somewhere between veterans on the downside and the emergence of promising youngsters.
The Royals? Just getting started after their championship window closed with the de- parture of three key free agents.
The Padres? In half-tank mode, as their signing of ex-Royal Eric Hosmer to a $143 million deal signals a ramping up — yet their skimping on a rotation that had yielded a 5.05 ERA indicates they’re not yet ready to go all in.
The Marlins? It’s what they do, though this time under the auspices of new ownership eager to shed debt.
Then there are the Reds and the White Sox, who can’t seem to change the course they charted.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn noted that this might be the toughest year of their rebuild, and it’s certainly playing out that way. The White Sox were 5-2 against the Royals and 5-25 against everybody else; the starting rotation had a major league-worst 5.78 ERA, as veteran stopgaps have struggled and youngster Lucas Giolito (6.91 ERA) holds the dubious distinction of walking more batters (32) than he’s struck out (24). In the meantime, they’ve kept their top prospects, fireballing right-hander Michael Kopech and powerhitting outfielder Eloy Jimenez, in the minor leagues, which is probably prudent.
All these clubs present case studies of what a fan base can endure.
The Reds have averaged 93 losses over four seasons since their last playoff appearance and look bound for their first 100-loss season since 1982. Average attendance has fallen from 31,000 in 2013 to 22,000 last year. The Reds are averaging 17,000 this season, though the usual early-season weather and school caveats apply.
The White Sox drew 1.63 million fans in 2017, their lowest since drawing 1.34 million in 1999.
The Padres drew 2.46 million fans in 2015, when veterans including Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and James Shields were added and helped boost attendance. That number fell to 2.14 million last year.
The Orioles saw attendance dip even before the on-field product suffered last year, and a reluctant rebuild could dent attendance further in coming years. The team countered by offering free admission to children 9 and under this season and on Sunday drew more than 25,000 on a chilly Mother’s Day.
“Winning solves everything,” says All-Star outfielder Adam Jones, like Machado a free agent after the season. “If you contend, the fans should be there.”
For nearly a third of major league teams, however, that impetus might not exist in what could be some very long seasons.
Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito has walked more batters (32) than he has struck out (24) this season as the White Sox had posted a 10-27 record.