History on side of 7–0 Orioles, but not for 0–7 Braves, Twins
In the context of a 162-game season, seven games is little more than a statistical blip—just 4.3% of the schedule. At any other time of year, the equivalent of a one-week stretch within the 26-week grind generally blends into the scenery, but what's surprising is the extent to which the extremes—7–0 and 0–7—tell us something about a team if they occur during the first week of the season, even while virtually every other performance trend can be dismissed as a function of small sample size.
On Tuesday, Cliff Corcoran and I sifted through the minutiae within the polar-opposite starts of the Twins (0–7) and Orioles (7–0 after Tuesday's win). Here, it's worth putting those starts in context and also noting that the Braves are 0–7 as well; we ignored them within the context of the aforementioned piece because, as a team that's explicitly rebuilding, they have little at stake beyond next year's draft position.
Regardless of whether it's a rebuilding team or one that has aspirations of contending—as the Twins, who last year won 83 games and remained alive in the AL wild card hunt until the second-to-last day of the season, might reasonably have—0–7 does not bode well at all. Since 1901 but not including this season, 25 teams have started 0–7, a list that includes the 1904 Senators, who had a tie within their first seven games but made the point moot by losing their eighth game and ultimately began 0–13; they and the 1920 Tigers shared the season-opening consecutive loss record until 1988, more on which below.
None of those 25 teams made the playoffs. Not in the pre-division play era (1901–68) from which 13 of those teams hail. Not in the four-division era (1969–93), which produced five of those teams. Not in the six-division era (1994 onward, the first year of which was the postseason-killing strike), which accounts for the other seven of those pre-2016 teams. But wait, it gets worse. A combined 13 of those teams finished in last place in their league or division, however it was defined at the time. The cumulative winning percentage of those teams was just .384, which equates to a 100-loss team over a 162-game season. What's more, just two of those 25 teams finished at or above .500, namely the 1980 Braves (81–80) and '83 Astros (85–77). The high-water mark for a wild-card era team is the 2010 Astros, who went 76–86 (.469) in their final season before diving into their extreme rebuilding program.
As you might expect, it’s extremely rare for two such teams to pop up in the same year. In fact, it's happened just twice. In 1962, the expansion Mets and the perennially hapless Cubs both started 0–7; the former didn't collect their first win until their 10th game and set a record for futility by going 40–120 (.250), and the latter won their eighth game and finished 59–103 (.364). In 1988, the Braves lost their first 10 games and finished 54–106 (.338), and the Orioles set one of the most dubious major league records by starting the year 0–21; they finished 54–107.
One other footnote on the losing end. While no team has ever pulled out of 0–7 to make the playoffs, three have recovered from 0–6: the 1974 Pirates, who finished 88–74 and won the NL East; the '95 Reds, who finished 85–59 in the strike-shortened season and won the NL Central; and the 2011 Rays, who finished 91–71 and snatched a wild-card berth away from the Red Sox on #TeamEntropy's finest day. The Twins can take heart that some day, a team will have to surpass that trio, and with the addition of a second wild card spot as of 2012, the odds of one doing so are greater than ever.
The flip side of the story is a much happier one. Prior to this year, 26 teams began the season 7–0, all of whom finished at or above .500, with the 1984 Tigers, who began 9–0, representing the high-water mark for wins (104, with 58 losses and a .642 inning percentage) and the '19 Reds, who lost their eighth game, finishing with the highest winning percentage at .686 (96–44). That season was shortened in advance by the owners due to a World War I-related anticipation of low attendance that actually did not come to pass, though of course it ended in scandal, with the fixing of the World Series by the White Sox. The low mark for those 7–0 teams was set by the 1966 Indians, who finished right at .500 (81–81).
The cumulative winning percentage of those 26 teams was .576, which translates to a healthy 93–69 record over a 162-game schedule, and as you might guess, many of those teams—though not the majority—made the postseason, a total of 11 in all (41%)—though you can add a 12th via an asterisk, as I'll explain below. Breaking it down, four of the 14 teams from the pre-division play era who started 7–0 won the pennant: the 1915 Phillies, '19 Reds, '44 St. Louis Browns and '55 Brooklyn Dodgers, with the Reds and Dodgers both famously winning their respective World Series. Four of the seven 7–0 teams from the four-division era made the playoffs: the 1981 A's, '82 Braves, '84 Tigers and '90 Reds, with the last two winning the World Series. From the six-division era, three of the five 7–0 teams made the playoffs: the 1996 Rangers, 2003 Giants (the only other team from this group besides the 1984 Tigers to win at least 100 games) and—drumroll please—the '15 Royals, with the last of those the lone World Series winners. The asterisk: The 1994 Braves held the NL wild card lead when the strike hit; if you include them, the percentage of such teams reaching the playoffs would rise to 44.
Having teams at both ends of the spectrum in the same year is comparatively rare. This is just the second time in the last 36 seasons in which it's happened; the other time was in 2003, when the 119-loss-bound Tigers went 0–7 and the Royals and Giants started 7–0. Prior to that, it was more common, happening in seven seasons from 1918 to '80, though uneven scheduling meant that one of those teams might have ended their streak well before the other one. Here's the list:
|Reds||1919||7-0||96-44||1||World Series champs|
|Dodgers*||1955||7-0||98-55||1||World Series champs|
As for those asterisks, they indicate when the two teams in question crossed paths within their respective streaks, as did the Orioles and Twins, who opened the season together in Baltimore. Note that in 1962, two teams started 7–0 to mirror the two 0–7 teams; those Pirates and Cardinals each got to fatten up on the Cubs and Mets during those season-opening stints.
Looking forward, the furthest into the season that both a winless and an undefeated team have persisted is nine games, a distinction shared by the 1918 Giants and Dodgers (who were amid their second head-to-head series before the spell was broken), and the '62 Pirates and Mets (Pittsburgh would actually win 10 straight). We’ll know by this weekend whether the Orioles and Twins will join this rather unique company.