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The Reds’ 3-21 start puts them in rare company

Only two other teams since 1900 have started a season this poorly.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Reds took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning against the Brewers.

That was it for highlights for Cincinnati as the Brewers went on to demolish them 18-4. That made the Reds’ record for the season 3-21. They’re already 13½ games out of first place (no other team trails by more than nine games).

They’re losing in every possible way. They’re 1-7 at home and 2-14 on the road. (Granted, that’s a large home/road split, but the Reds have been awful everywhere.) They’re 2-7 in day games and 1-14 in night games. The two games they won on the road were both in their first series of the season, at Atlanta, both by 6-3 scores. Since that series ended the Reds are 1-19, the lone win a 4-1 triumph over the Cardinals April 24. They’ve already had an 11-game losing streak and an eight-game losing streak. They’ve allowed 10+ runs four times already. (For a comparison, last year’s Diamondbacks, who were the worst team in the NL with 110 losses, allowed 10+ runs 13 times — for the entire season. And they won one of those games.)

The Reds have scored 74 runs and allowed 156. That makes their Pythagorean W/L record 5-19. Yikes, not much better. That’s a .208 winning percentage which would translate to a 33-129 record in a 162-game season, which would smash all records for awfulness.

Just two other teams since 1900 have started a MLB season that badly, and both in fairly recent times.

The 1988 Orioles, who famously lost their first 21 games, won Game 22 and then lost two more, so after 24 games they were 1-23. That team finished 54-107. (And, remarkably, the next year they went 87-75 and were in first place in the AL East most of the summer before fading in September.)

The 2003 Tigers were also 3-21 after 24 games, and finished 43-119, which is the second-worst record in the expansion era (one game worse than the famed 1962 Mets, who went 40-120). And the Tigers had to win five of their last six to avoid losing 120 — with six games left they were 38-118 and riding a 10-game losing streak.

Sportswriter Jimmy Breslin, who chronicled those 1962 Mets, once wrote of them:

They lost innumerable games by one run, the sign of a bad team. They lost innumerable games by ten runs, the sign of a terrible team. They lost at home, they lost on the road. They lost by day, they lost by night. They lost in ways that stagger the imagination.

These Reds could be that bad. Here’s how the Reds rank in various categories across MLB entering Thursday’s action:

Runs: 28th
HR: 24th (17; even the Cubs have more with 19)
BA: 29th
OBP: 30th
SLG: 30th
OPS: 30th
OPS+: 30th (and not close, 63, 29th is the Royals at 76)
Runs allowed: 30th
ERA: 30th (not close, 6.68, 29th is the Nationals at 4.89)
HR allowed: 26th
Walks: 30th

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Twenty-four games is 15 percent of the season. That’s not a lot, but it is a pretty good sample to give us an idea of what a team is like. This Reds team is bad. They don’t hit and they don’t pitch. They do have saves in all three of their wins, but have blown the two other save opportunities they’ve had.

This could have (and was, by some) predicted. The Reds either traded or just let go two of their 2021 starters (Sonny Gray and Wade Miley). They traded their starting catcher, Tucker Barnhart, and a hitter who was an All-Star last year (Jesse Winker). Another 2021 Reds All-Star, Nick Castellanos, opted out of his contract and departed.

Then team president Phil Castellini, son of owner Robert Castellini, made some nasty comments to Reds fans a week into the season:

[Castellini] told WLW’s Mo Egger and Scott Sloan that ownership is “no more pleased with the results than the fans” after threatening fans with the possibility of moving the team.

“Where you gonna go? Let’s start there. I mean sell the team to who?” Phil Castellini told WLW. “If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.

Before the Reds’ home opener on Tuesday against the Guardians, Phil Castellini was asked about his comments, and doubled down on what he said, again saying that Reds ownership has not “abandoned” the team.

“We haven’t abandoned investing in the team and the community so the point is how about everybody just settle down and celebrate and cheer for the team. You can hate on us [the ownership] all you want. We’re not going anywhere,” Phil Castellini said.

Naturally, that became a big story and the usual non-apology was issued:

The Reds are a train wreck and they just might be the worst team in modern baseball history. They don’t even have anyone worth trading for prospects at this point.

There are a handful of other teams that started one game better over 24 than the Reds have, 4-20. Here’s what happened to those teams:

1932 Red Sox: 43-111
1936 Browns: 57-95
1948 White Sox: 51-101
1952 Pirates: 42-112
1969 Indians: 62-99

There’s one outlier in a 4-20 start team: The 1969 Houston Astros wound up 81-81 and were actually in the NL West race until a 12-18 September dropped them out of contention.

But the rest of those teams, along with the 1988 Orioles and 2003 Tigers, averaged a .321 winning percentage. That would be a 52-110 season for the Reds, which would be a franchise record for losses. The current Reds franchise, which dates to 1882 (the Reds’ claim to an 1869 start attempts to connect them to the old “Red Stockings” team from that year which actually has no connection to the current Reds), has lost 100 games only once, in 1982.

The Cubs were supposed to open this season in Cincinnati, but those games got moved to season’s end due to the lockout, which means the Cubs and Reds will finish 2022 with six consecutive games against each other, three at Wrigley and then three at GABP starting September 30. The Cubs’ first series against the Reds, a four-game set, begins Monday, May 23 at GABP. Perhaps the Cubs can take advantage and start winning some games then, if not before.

At the time this article posted, the Reds are wrapping up their series in Milwaukee and are already trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the third inning, well on their way to being 3-22. Keep an eye on these Reds, they could be the worst team in modern MLB history.