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- The Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers start a four-game series tonight as the two worst teams in baseball during a season in which the difference between the top-tier clubs and those on the bottom rung has never been more pronounced.
- As the worst of the worst square off, we got to wondering: Is there hope for the have-nots? We take a closer look at the state of the standings, predict the future of a handful of the most non-competitive franchises -- and debate what the disparity means for the game.
- The Orioles and Tigers are putting up historic numbers for losses/run differential. Where do they rank among the worst teams you have ever seen?
- Jeff Passan: They're not even the worst Orioles and Tigers teams of the past 20 years. Even though the 2019 Orioles might end up with an inferior run differential, the 2018 club lost 115 games. And may we never forget the 2003 Tigers, losers of 119 games and in the worst-team-ever conversation.
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- David Schoenfield: Look, these Orioles are particularly unwatchable because of all the home runs they've allowed. They broke the single-season record with more than a month left to go in the season. They don't have any particularly compelling young players who you think will develop into a future star. The Tigers are also particularly unwatchable, with an offense that once you adjust for the current environment rates as one of the worst of all time. They also don't have any particularly compelling young players you think will develop into a future star. Remarkably, however, neither is the worst team I've seen. Jeff points out the 2003 Tigers, an amazingly awful team that was outscored by 337 runs. Most amazing of all, they were in the World Series three years later.
- Bradford Doolittle: Relatively speaking, even with so many teams buried in rebuilding programs right now, there is more parity than there used to be in baseball. The amateur draft, revenue sharing, free agency -- none of these things used to exist, and so the game is more competitive top-to-bottom than it was in the era before divisional play. There have been 74 teams since 1901 to have posted run differentials that translate to fewer than 57 Pythagorean wins per 162 games. Only 15 of those (20%) have appeared during the 51 years of divisional play, or just under one every three years. This season, both the Tigers and Orioles could get below that 57-win cutoff, though Baltimore still has a chance to eclipse it. I've seen both teams play at least three times in person and you can't really tell the degree of their awfulness by watching. It's more like a situation arises, you see who is coming up to the plate or in from the bullpen, scan the scorecard for better options, and then think, "Good god. This team stinks." There are teams every season that give you that feeling. It's hard to rank such a thing, so I have to default to metrics. The Tigers' pace of 50.9 Pythagorean wins per 162 games would be the second-worst result since 1975, behind Detroit's 2003 season. So that's pretty bad. But the Orioles show up in that group of sub-57-win teams twice -- last year and this year. As a matter of extended putridness, I don't think we've seen anything like the two most recent Baltimore teams in a generation or two.
- Eddie Matz: Slightly south of the Washington Generals, and just north of the Bad News Bears.
- Let's put you on the spot: Quick, one reason to watch the O's take on the Tigers this weekend that has nothing to do with win-loss records?
- Doolittle: Miguel Cabrera. Every hit and home run he gets moves him closer to historical milestones and who better to pad a hitter's numbers than the Orioles' pitching staff?
- Matz: Both teams feature orange in their uniforms. Orange is a happy color. (Not that you need more reason beyond happiness, but ... we could call it the Orange Bowl, in which case maybe Capital One would come on as a sponsor, just like they do for the CFB Orange Bowl.)
- Passan: Edwin Jackson is pitching Sunday! And even if he has a 9.76 ERA and has been worth -2.3 WAR -- the worst mark in MLB this year -- he's still Edwin Jackson! In his 17th year, pitching for his major league-record 14th team -- Rays, Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Braves, Cardinals, A's, Padres, Orioles, Marlins, Blue Jays and Tigers -- Jackson might be nearing the end of his career. And considering the journey that's been the 2019 season is likewise at its end, who better to watch than the journeyman of journeymen?
- Schoenfield: What, the Aaron Brooks-Jordan Zimmermann matchup doesn't get you excited? OK, how about tuning in to see Hanser Alberto's pursuit of the batting title. Who? Yes, the guy who hit .192 in parts of three seasons with the Rangers and was waived four times in the offseason -- by the Rangers, Yankees, Orioles (who later picked him up again) and Giants -- could win a batting title. He enters Thursday hitting .320, 13 points behind Tim Anderson. Thirteen points can evaporate in a matter days with a few 0-for-4s and the other getting hot. So, Hanser Alberto, the potential most unlikely batting champ of all time!
- Which of the five worst teams in baseball (Tigers, Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Blue Jays), do you think is the closest to making the playoffs?
- Passan: While it's far from foolproof, the most successful down-to-the-studs rebuilds have erected themselves around a core of young position-playing talent. The Tigers don't have that. The Orioles don't have that. The Marlins don't have that. The Royals sort of have that, though Whit Merrifield (30), Jorge Soler (27) and Hunter Dozier (27) aren't spring chickens. That leaves the Blue Jays and this bunch of 25-and-unders: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen and Rowdy Tellez. With less than $75 million committed over the next half-decade, the Blue Jays are ripe -- or at least ripest among these five -- to build something special.
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- Doolittle: I'll go with the Marlins with a slight edge over the Blue Jays. Teams, including the 2003 Marlins, can go on shocking runs if they are able to gather a bunch of productive young arms, and Miami appears to be on the verge of doing that with their rotation. Even in 2019, it's a great foundation from which to make a short-term leap. An astute front office can piece together a league-average offense with plus defense and a steady bullpen with targeted aggression in the free-agent market to augment what's already on the roster. I'm not saying the Marlins should go all-in or anything, but their rotation has the most potential for near-term, postseason-level success than any other position group among these teams.
- Matz: The O's and Jays have promising farm systems, but for purposes of this question, that's offset by the fact that they share a sandbox with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The Marlins' pipeline is strong, too, but it's hard to trust the front office given the team's recent history. That leaves the Tigers and Royals, both of whom will benefit by playing in the watered-down AL Central. Detroit has the better farm system, and historically, has been looser with the purse strings. So I guess I'm hitching my wagon to the Tigers.
- Schoenfield: The Tigers at least have the potential of a rotation to build around in the near future, with current big leaguers Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Morris, plus prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning, two of the top 10 pitching prospects in the minors. They do have the advantage of playing in the AL Central. Unfortunately, they also have little in the way of position players and I don't have a lot of faith in the current front office or if Christopher Ilitch will be willing to spend on payroll like dad did. So, umm, I'll lean to the Blue Jays even though they're in a tough division. It looks like they have two young studs to build around and, in theory, they're a big-market team that has the ability to spend big if they want to win.
- Which of the five worst teams in baseball (Tigers, Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Blue Jays), do you think is in the worst shape for the future?
- Doolittle: Have to go with the Tigers. Nobody's nadir should be this bad, though Astros fans will tell you that it doesn't make any difference. Detroit has drafted a couple of exciting young arms, but it's a drop in the bucket and for a team that has sunk this far, their payroll situation isn't all that great, either. On top of that, I haven't picked up on much to suggest the Tigers' baseball operations are operating on the cutting edge -- taking advantage of their current plight to modernize how they do things. This year should be rock bottom but I couldn't guarantee that it is.
- Passan: Much of the Tigers' rebuild looks pitching-dependent, and that's always troublesome. The Marlins are stocked with boom-or-bust position players, and that's a scary proposition. A too-large group of Royals position-playing prospects bombed out this season, and that's scary and troublesome. But the Orioles are in an American League East with a fully functional Death Star Yankees team, a Red Sox cash cow, a Rays crew that's good and filled with major league-caliber prospects, and the aforementioned Blue Jays. So no matter how astute GM Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal are, their mountaintop is a mile higher than the other four teams'.
- Matz: The Royals have the weakest farm system of the bunch. It's possible that the recent ownership change, combined with a new TV deal, could make them more prominent players in the free-agent market. But in the interest of not overthinking things here, I'll go with K.C.
- Schoenfield: The Marlins haven't finished above .500 since 2009, nobody goes to their games, the offense is horrible, the farm system isn't that impressive, they're behind other organizations in analytics (although finally starting to ramp up) and the fetish for toolsy position player prospects who can't hit is a boom-or-bust approach that usually leads to bust.
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- Joe Maddon ... Marlins manager? If the Cubs let him go, faux-GM David Schoenfield would try to lure him to Miami. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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