The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Orioles’ 19-game losing streak ended, but their bleak 2021 numbers remain staggering.

For Austin Hays and the Orioles, things look bleak. (Terrance Williams/AP)

In May, the Baltimore Orioles lost 14 straight games. In June, they won two games over an 18-game stretch. July saw a 1-8 run.

Somehow, the worst was yet to come.

The Orioles ended a 19-game losing streak Wednesday night, rallying from a four-run deficit to beat Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels in Baltimore. The skid was the longest in the majors since the Kansas City Royals also lost 19 straight in 2005. Baltimore was outscored by 108 runs during this futile stretch and had just a single one-run loss, against the Atlanta Braves last weekend. Among the lowlights: a 13-1 thrashing at the hands of the New York Yankees, a 16-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox and a 10-0 blowout delivered by the Tampa Bay Rays, against whom the Orioles are a woeful 1-15 this season.

Facing a four-run deficit to Shohei Ohtani on mound, Orioles rally to end march to infamy

The Orioles became the first team since the 1935 Boston Braves to suffer multiple losing streaks of at least 14 games in the same season. A silver lining? They fell two games short of the American League record of 21 straight losses, set by, yes, the Orioles in 1988.

How did it get so bad? Just look at the numbers. Baltimore’s starting rotation is historically weak. Entering Saturday, its starters had an MLB-worst 6.26 ERA, nearly a full run behind the 5.33 of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation, which is directly ahead of the Orioles’. Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin have combined to go 1-15 with a 7.25 ERA and 1.66 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched). On average, American League starters had a 4.44 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Jorge López has the worst ERA in baseball among starters with at least 100 innings pitched (6.19). The second worst belongs to teammate Matt Harvey (6.18).

The NL East is a hot mess. But someone has to win it.

If the season ended today, the Orioles’ starters would have the fourth-worst ERA on record since 1901, the start of baseball’s modern era.

Baltimore’s hitting isn’t much better. The Orioles are batting .240 entering Saturday, which ranks 16th, with a .708 on-base-plus-slugging mark (20th). They’re creating runs at a rate 6 percent below the MLB average after adjusting for league and park effects. The Orioles don’t draw many walks, either; their walk rate (7.3 percent of plate appearances end in a base on balls) is the third lowest of 2021.

Such futility has become the norm for a once-proud franchise that has not been remotely relevant in decades, barring one stretch from 2012 to 2016 when the Orioles won one AL East crown, made three postseason appearances and won more regular season games than any other AL team. Baltimore is on track to finish last in the AL East for the fourth time in five seasons, with the only outlier being last year’s pandemic-abbreviated season, when the Orioles finished fourth, one game ahead of the Red Sox. Since 1997, the last time Baltimore won a game in a playoff round later than the division series, the Orioles have finished fourth or fifth in the AL East 17 times, a number that almost certainly will grow to 18 when this season mercifully ends.

It has gotten to the point that MLB is considering corrective measures to deal with teams such as the Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins, whose perpetual ineptitude has given rise to accusations of tanking. MLB’s collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1, and in the first face-to-face negotiations with player representatives this month, MLB officials reportedly proposed a $100 million salary minimum for each team, to be paid for by charging big-spending teams more for exceeding the luxury tax.

The Orioles have had one of the sport’s four lowest Opening Day payrolls in each of the past three seasons, and their highest-paid player this season (Chris Davis) just retired amid a bloated contract that will continue to pay him even though he stopped playing. According to the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, other MLB executives regard the franchise “as an embarrassment, an example of tanking gone haywire.”

Chris Davis retires after 13 MLB seasons, two home run titles and one massive contract

Though it’s in short supply at Camden Yards, hope could rest in a fairly stocked minor league system that includes catcher Adley Rutschman (the No. 1 pick of the 2019 amateur draft who is considered one of the sport’s top prospects), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (who has an 8-1 minor league record this season) and outfielder Heston Kjerstad (the No. 2 pick in 2020 who has yet to play professionally because of myocarditis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart muscle).

But that’s for a different season. In this one, Baltimore is on the fast track to reach at least 100 losses for the third time in four years, with the exception being that shortened 2020 campaign. The Orioles also should become the first team since the expansion New York Mets in 1962-65 to lose at least 108 games in three consecutive non-abbreviated seasons. (Compare Baltimore’s ability to win games with that of its upcoming opponents, and you will find an 82 percent chance the Orioles will lose at least 108 games.) There is a slim chance they will lose at least 116, which would be the most in the majors since the Tigers went 43-119 in 2003.

The Orioles’ trajectory may change at some point, either via forced competitiveness or talent coming of age. But for now, it continues to point down. Just how far down remains to be seen.