Seven teams on pace to lose 100 games
It seemed so simple when the Houston 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 straight 100loss seasons, baseball is flush with terrible teams.
A staggering seven clubs are 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 Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers are on track to lose between 100 and 119 games.
With the season barely one-quarter finished, things can surely get better. 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, Royals and Padres are already double-digit games out of first place; 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, Chicago Cubs in winning the past two 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, right? If you get to the promised land and you win, it doesn’t matter how you got there.”
All the big-losing 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. In the meantime, average attendance has fallen from 31,000 in 2013 to 22,000 last year. The Reds are averaging 17,000 so far this season, though the usual early-season weather and school caveats apply.
The White Sox drew 1.63 million fans in 2017, their lowest total since drawing 1.34 million in 1999. The Padres drew 2.46 million fans in 2015, when veterans like Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and James Shield were added and helped boost attendance. That number fell to 2.14 million last year.
The Orioles already 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,” said All-Star outfielder Adam Jones, like Machado a free agent after the season. “If you contend, the fans should be there.”
For nearly a quarter of major league teams, however, that impetus may not exist in what could be some very long seasons.