Which major league teams got off to the worst (or best) starts?
At the start of the 2016 season, the San Diego Padres got their Opening Day series underway by getting shut out in their first three games—a Major League record—while being outscored 25-0. After 35 games into the season, they were 15-20 and in last place (but just 2.5 games out of first in a weak division). So there’s hope…after all, it’s a long, long season.
Also this season, the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves got off to the worst starts in their teams’ histories, both teams going winless in nine straight games to open the ’16 schedule. Amazingly enough, they also both got their first wins on the same weekend to end their streaks. But after 33 games and just eight wins each, they find themselves in the cellar of their divisions.
You think that’s bad?
Here are some of the worst and best streaks to open a season, along with a few notes on what happened to those teams along the way.
THE BIGGEST LOSERS
Bad Beginnings in Baltimore. 0-21, 1988 Baltimore Orioles
This season-opening losing streak wasn’t just bad—it was the worst ever. The 1988 Orioles lowered the bar for fan expectations by recording not one win during their first 21 games. They started off on the wrong foot, losing 12-0 to the Brewers on Opening Day, and didn’t win their first game until April 29th. They lost the next game, though, and wound up with the worst won/loss record for the month of April in MLB history…not surprising.
Windy City Becomes Winless City. 0-14, 1997 Chicago Cubs
The Cubs got off to their worst start ever in ’97 and finally picked up their first win when they beat the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader on April 20th on the road. They ended the season losing 94 games. It remains the team’s longest losing streak of any season.
Down and Out in Detroit. 0-13, 1920 Detroit Tigers
Don’t feel too bad for the ’20 Tigers. Sure, they lost their first 13 games of the season, and they went through all of April without winning one game—that’s because the season didn’t start until April 14th. Hopefully, the Tigers 19-game losing streak in 1975 erased memories of the 13-game skid to start the ’20 season.
Hold That Tiger. 0-11, 2002 Detroit Tigers
In 2002, the Detroit Tigers came up two losses short of tying the 1920 team for most losses to start a season. The ’02 Tigers ended up losing 106 games, and no doubt the fans said, “Wait till next year!” Fans did, and their team dropped 119 games in 2003.
They’re Not Half-Bad. 0-10, 1968 Chicago White Sox
The 10-game no-win streak for the Chicago White Sox seems forgivable, compared to the streak the ’88 Orioles compiled. But the White Sox record still makes the top-five list of worst starts in MLB modern history. And that team finished 67-95, but they stayed out of last place that year.
Most losses ever?
The Philadelphia Phillies lost 23 straight games in 1961 and the Philadelphia Athletics lost 20 straight games during a season twice… in 1916 and 1923. The record for most losses in a season? That belongs to the 1962 New York Mets, who dropped 120 games in their inaugural season. The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003…it took a streak at the end of their season to keep them from tying the Mets’ record.
On the opposite end of the streak spectrum, there have been teams that have bolted out of the gate with impressive winning streaks, often with good season-ending results as well.
Well, not all of them.
Best of the Braves. 13-0, 1982 Atlanta Braves
With Dale Murphy and Bob Horner belting more than 30 homers each, the Braves had a great season that started with 13 straight victories. Lucky for them. But their luck ran out during the playoffs and they didn’t make it to the World Series.
Something’s Brewing. 13-0, 1987 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers matched the Braves with 13 straight wins, but unlike Atlanta, their hot start failed to propel them even into the playoffs that year. Goes to show you that a sizzling April doesn’t translate into a fantastic October.
Sweeping into History. 12-0, 1966 Baltimore Orioles
Jim Palmer was a second-year pitcher on a team that reeled off a dozen straight wins to open the 1966 season and ended up with 97 wins to reach the World Series. Then they went on another streak in October, sweeping the Dodgers in four straight in the Fall Classic. It marked the last time Sandy Koufax ever took the mound. The Orioles shut out L.A. in Games 2, 3 and 4 of the Series.
Sparky, Gibby and Winning. 35-5, 1984 Detroit Tigers
On their way to 104 wins and a World Series win over the San Diego Padres, the Detroit Tigers, led by manager Sparky Anderson and a healthy Kirk Gibson, lost only five times in their first 40 games. Maybe the ’84 season helped Detroit fans forget about the bad starts and bad seasons you’ve read about here.
Slugging in Seattle. 20-4, 2001 Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners turned the 2001 season into a win odyssey and racked up 116 total wins, the most in MLB history. They won 20 of their first 24 games for one of the best starts ever. Unfortunately, they ran into the Yankees in the ALCS, who got past them and into the World Series. That’s the closest the Mariners have ever come.
Something to think about.
• In 1939 the Yankees won 29 of their first 36 games, ended up with 106 wins and swept the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. So what’s special about that? It was the first season in more than a dozen that New York didn’t have Lou Gehrig in the lineup. He’d taken himself out on May 2, 1939, when his ailing body could no longer continue.
• The 1969 Baltimore Orioles opened the season with a 20-8 record. They won 109 games and made it to the World Series, where they faced the National League pennant winner. That NL team was the 1969 Mets, or the “Amazing Mets” (or just the “Amazin’s” for true Mets fans). The rest of the story is history