There has been much gnashing of teeth in such places as Toronto, Kansas City, Texas and San Francisco over their baseball team’s slow starts this spring.
The Blue Jays, who have made the playoffs the last two years, limped out of the gate in April with a 7-18 record. After a bit of a rebound, they are now 13-21. The Royals, who were World Champions in 2015, went 7-16 in April and are currently last overall in the AL at 12-21.
The Rangers, also playoff participants the last two seasons, were 11-14 in April and are in last place in the AL West at 15-20. San Francisco, meanwhile, finished April with a 9-17 mark, which can’t be sitting too well with a Giants’ faithful used to seeing them at the top of the NL heap (they are now 12-23 and dead last in the senior circuit).
While the season isn’t at the quarter-pole, panic shouldn’t set in. However, there is historical precedent that says recovering from a slow start in a 162-game season to make the playoffs is near impossible.
Here are the 10 worst April starts in MLB history and how the teams fare after.
10. Chicago Cubs: 6-19 (Multiple Years)
The Cubbies are finally defending World Series champs after 108 long years. But, during the intervening years between 1908 and 2016, there was a lot of bad baseball played at Wrigley. Three times the Cubs started seasons at 6-19, in 1962, 1966 and 1997. Both of those tepid starts in the 60s resulted in 59-103 records, which put them 42.5 games back of the San Francisco Giants in ‘ 62 and 36 games behind L.A. in ’66. In 1997, another 6-19 April — which included a terrible 0-14 start – doomed Chicago to another last place finish. Just about anything that could go wrong that season did. Other than Sammy Sosa (36 HR, 119 RBI) and Mark Grace (.319 batting average) the team didn’t hit all that well. The starting pitchers, fronted by Steve Trachsel, had a collective ERA around 4.40 and the bullpen wasn’t any better, with a closer by committee mentality. To put another spin on things, the Cubs best start, 21-4 in 1907, resulted in a 107-45 record and a World Series triumph.
9. New York Mets: 6-19 (1964)
There was nothing “Amazing” about the expansion New York Mets. They entered the league in 1962 and finished 40-120, which was 60.5 games out of first lace. They didn’t improve greatly going into the middle of the decade and in 1964 the Mets started out 6-19, which got the sputtering on the road to a last-place, 53-109 mark. There wasn’t much to get excited about at the the gleaming new “showpiece” Shea Stadium, other than 19-year-old phenom Ed Kranepool, who played three games for the 1962 team at the tender age of 17. Old Casey Stengel, who managed this sorry squad, must have thought, “yep, this about says it all” when Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning tossed a perfect game at the Mets on their own turf later in the season. Not a season to remember.
8. Atlanta Braves: 6-19 (1988 and 2016)
Yet another lousy club which proved, twice, that a slow start gets a baseball team absolutely nowhere. The Braves, for the most part in their history, haven’t been good. There was that 15-year period between 1991 an 2005 where they consistently made the playoffs and won just their third ever world title. However, that boom period was preceded by a total bust in 1988, when the Braves opened the season 6-19 and posted one of their worst ever records (54-106) since the team started as the Boston Red Stockings in 1871. That lowly ’88 squad was matched for ineptitude by the 2016 Braves, who also won just six of 25 to go on to a 68-93 finish. The ’88 Atlanta team didn’t get stellar performances from anyone, including future all-star and Cy Young award winning pitcher Tom Glavine, who went 7-17. Last year’s bunch weren’t much better, with no pitcher posting double digit wins and only one hitter smacking 20-plus homers (Freddie Freeman with 34).
7. Seattle Mariners: 6-18-1 (1981)
Ties in baseball are as rare as a three-dollar bill. Fitting that the Seattle Mariners record from the strike-altered 1981 season included a draw. The ’81 campaign was split into two halves thank to a players’ walkout. The Mariners first 25 games weren’t memorable at all, as they went 6-18-1 to finish the first half 21-36 and 44-65 overall. The tie, even though an official score from a rain-shortened seven-inning contest, was never replayed nor recorded because neither team was in playoff contention. The ’81 Ms did have a lot of recognizable names, like Tom Paciorek, Jeff Burroughs and Richie Zisk, but they were all past their prime and none of them could elevate the team’s play. On the bump, Seattle was very average with Floyd Bannister sporting the best record at 9-9.
6. Philadelphia Phillies: 5-20 (1928)
For many, many years in the early part of the last century, the Phillies were a pretty horrid baseball club. In the Roaring 20s, Phillies teams posted four seasons of 100 or more losses. None worse than the the 1928 edition that went a terrible 5-20 to open the campaign and finished with the second most losses in franchise history (43-109). This Phils team was so bad that their “best” pitcher was Ray Benge, who went 8-18 with a 4.55 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 201.2 innings pitched. They did have some decent hitters in future MVP Chuck Klein (.360, 11 HR, 34 RBI), Pinky Whitney (.301, 10 HR, 103 RBI) and Freddy Leach (.304, 13 HR, 96 RBI), but their pitching was so bad (collective 5.61 ERA, 1,737 WHIP) that good hitting couldn’t overcome it.
5. Houston Astros: 5-20 (1969)
This Houston Astros team is the “success” story among teams here. Despite a cringe-worthy 5-20 start to the 1969 season, the Astros clambered back to respectability, finishing at .500 with a 81-81 record. In just their fifth year of existence as the Astros (known as the Colt 45s for three years before that), the Astros made the most of that crappy start, making some history in the process. The team didn’t really hit a lick (.240 overall batting average, 104 homers), but they sure got some pitching. On Sept. 19, 1969, Jim Bouton struck out Cincinnati’s Tony Perez, making baseball history. With that K, the Astros pitching staff broke the then-National League record for most strikeouts in a season with 1,123 strikeouts. Houston would finish with 1,221 strikeouts, a record that stuck for 27 years.
4. Cleveland Indians: 4-21 (1969)
Over in the American League in 1969, one team got off to a worse start than the 5-20 Houston Astros. They were the sad-sack Cleveland Indians, who won just four of their first 25 games and had to really scramble to finish 62-99 and out of the playoffs for the 15th straight season — and their would be 25 more years of no post-season appearances. In ’69, the American League had newly established divisions, the East and the West. Cleveland’s start meant that they would make history by being the newly formed division’s first last-place finisher. This team did have a couple of decent boppers in Ken Harrelson and Tony Horton (27 homers each) but were very inconsistent hitters, collectively batting .237. A younger Luis Tiant paid for his team’s inconsistency by going 9-20 that year. Yet, his ERA was just 3.71 and he tossed 249.2 innings of ball.
3. Boston Red Sox: 4-21 (1932)
After the World Series win in 1918 and the trade of the Bambino, there were some awful lean years in Beantown. The Red Sox endured 15 straight losing seasons from 1919 to 1933, none worse than the ’32 campaign. That team of no names started the year 4-21, en route to a record of 43-111, which is still a team record for most losses, fewest wins and lowest winning percentage (.279). The team didn’t hit well (.251 batting average, 53 HR), field well (7th overall in fielding percentage) or pitch well (collective 5.02 ERA). The atypical Red Sox player that year was outfielder Smead Jolley. He could hit a ton, posting a .309 batting average, 18 homers and 99 RBI in 137 games with Boston, but in an age before the DH, he had to field and was barely passable. He made 15 errors that season on just 261 chances for a poor .943 fielding percentage.
2. Detroit Tigers: 3-22 (2003)
Hard to believe that the Detroit Tigers played in the World Series in 2006, just three short years after having the worst season in franchise history. One more loss in 2003 and the Tigers would have tied the 1962 New York Mets (who had an excuse, they were an expansion team) for most losses in a season at 120. That’s right, Detroit started the ’03 season at 3-22 and finished 43-119. From the pitching staff, which had an ERA of 5.30, to the batters, who finished with a team batting average of .240 — 19 points below the American League’s .259 batting average — there was plenty of blame to share around. The top “winner” on the pitching staff, Mike Maroth, had a record of 9-21 to go with his 5.73 ERA. They had no closer, either, with a head-scratching eight relievers posting 27 saves. Their top hitter was DH Dmitri Young, who hit .297 with 29 HR and 85 RBI, but also struck out a team high 130 times.
1. Baltimore Orioles: 2-23 (1988)
Cal Ripken Sr. got off easy. The Orioles manager, who led the sad sack team to a 67-95 record in 1987, got canned six games into the 1988 season after the team failed to win a game. He was replaced by unfortunate Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who had to endure 15 more losses in a row as Baltimore went 0-21 to start that horrible campaign. The team didn’t win a game until April 29 and their final record was 54-107. Outside of Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray, this team didn’t hit a whole lot (.238 batting average, 137 homers) and the pitching staff was nothing to write home about. The only noteworthy happenings of that horrible season were the debuts of Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. Anderson would be a three-time all-star centerfielder for the O’s and hit 50 homers during the 1996 season. Schilling was just a pup of 21 when he made his first appearance on a major league bump on Sept. 7, 1988. He went seven innings against his future team, the Boston Red Sox, giving up six hits and three earned runs in a no decision (the Orioles won 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth).