To put it bluntly, the Baltimore Orioles this year are not good. With a sub-.300 winning percentage and their biggest star on the trading block, there just is not a lot to look forward to as a fan. And all of that has got me thinking of other bad teams, for instance, that for as bad as things are, they won’t be as bad as the Cleveland Spiders. The 1899 team went 20-134 (a .130 winning percentage), a monument to awfulness that will stand the ages.
It’s an interesting story about how they got that bad; the owners of the team, happy with the growing popularity of the sport, decided to double down in their investment, and so they purchased a second team in another market (a National League team in St. Louis that you may know of). Once they did that, they had an idea: wouldn’t one super team do better than two middling ones? So, deciding the St. Louis team had more upside, they transferred all of their stars (including several Hall of Famers, like Cy Young) to there and left the Spiders with whatever was left. The results were so dire that Cleveland folded the next year, and NL leadership banned any future owners from owning multiple teams.
But what if it wasn’t against the rules? How would a modern Cleveland Spiders experiment go? Thanks to the kind people at Out of the Park Developments, I was given the chance to play their powerful simulator, Out of the Park Baseball 19, and see for myself. (And if this game sounds up your alley, it’s currently on sale on Steam!)
Obviously, the Orioles would be my Spiders, as I need to do something to make myself feel less depressed about this season. For my second team, I decided I’d need a second-tier playoff contender, since just building up the Astros or Yankees would be boring. So why not just use the Cardinals again? With that decided, follow along with my documentation of this alternate 2018 universe:
Looking it over, it’s depressing how few of the players on the Orioles even look like they could get a roster spot on the Cardinals. Some feel like they’d be good lateral moves or whatever, but very few look like they’d be straight-up improvements on the starting roster. Anyway, I trade Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, Brad Brach, Darren O'Day
, and Jonathan Schoop for Paul DeJong, Greg Garcia, Ryan Sherriff, Brett Cecil, and Bud Norris. This lineup looks really good: Matt Carpenter, Machado, Marcell Ozuna, Schoop, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and Yadier Molina. I’m excited to see how this plays. Bundy is going to be our swing man and emergency starter, with Brach and O’Day as the back two of the pen.
The Orioles lineup, meanwhile, hurts to look at.
We lost Opening Day to the Mets 7-2. Not a good sign. In fact, the Mets sweep us. We quickly wind up 2-6, but bounce back right after that to 8-8, stomping the D-backs and Reds while taking revenge on the Brewers. Then the Cubs sweep us. It seems that our rotation and bullpen are fine, but the lineup is cold. We finish the month 13-15
One month in, Luke Weaver and Michael Wacha are anchoring the rotation, and Brad Brach and Darren O’Day are locking things down on the back end (2.08 ERA/1.44 FIP and 1.20 ERA/0.93 FIP, respectively). Dylan Bundy’s adjustment to being a reliever hasn’t been disastrous, but it also hasn’t been super notable, either.
On the offense, Jonathan Schoop has formed a solid core with Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler. Manny Machado got off to an absolutely frigid start, but is starting to rebound maybe? In any instance, I’m doing much better than the 8-23 Orioles.
On the first day of May, Marcell Ozuna breaks his foot. Harrison Bader is doing well enough that I can probably let him start. Tyler O’Neill looks like he’s doing fine in AAA…of course, I could also just acquire Adam Jones from my personal back-up team the Orioles. He’s the only position player on their team with more than half a Win Above Replacement to his name. I decide to leave it be for now, to avoid messing around with the contracts (as taking on all these additional contracts has pushed me to the edge of the Cardinals’ budget). Besides, it’s just one injury. Right?
We finally win our first game against the Cubs on May 6th, our sixth game against them this year. This is the start of an 8-2 stretch that ends with Schoop breaking his finger. There are no good replacement options on the Orioles (since…you know, I took their best middle infielders already), but I still have Kolten Wong acting as my super-sub and I can make due with my own minor leaguers as bench depth.
But Matt Carpenter goes down the next day with a hamstring problem, to miss 6 weeks. He’s been my best position player to date, by WAR (1.6). I have to force-trade Paul DeJong back from Baltimore (he has a 75 OPS+ and 0.3 WAR). While this isn’t an inspiring option, I do have Jedd Gyorko as my back-up utility guy, and he’s a more promising option (the fans rejoice at the re-acquisition of DeJong, all the same).
We win the next two to keep up our streak, then loose Tommy Pham for 5 weeks to an oblique strain. At this point, I decide the heck with this, I’m going for Adam Jones. I’ll send over Gregerson and Holland, both on big contracts, and take back Mychal Givens, because the bullpen is the one thing on the Orioles that isn’t a garbage fire. I also promote Matt Bowman back to the majors to take the other roster spot.
When Ozuna comes off the DL, I suddenly have way too many outfielders. This would be a lot easier to manage with a DH, but in the meantime, I move Jones (my best-hitting and worst-fielding outfielder) to first and bench the struggling Jose Martinez. The end of the month brings both a Rookie of the Month award and a foot injury to Harrison Bader, which immediately undoes my Jones-to-first decision.
Raiding the Orioles has done wonders. Manny has bounced back to third on the team in WAR (1.1), Jones is my second-best player right now behind Fowler (post-injuries), our pitching staff (especially the bullpen, led by O’Day and Brach) is solid, and we’re 33-22. We went 20-7 on the month, including a ten-game win streak. Unfortunately, we’re 4 games behind the Cubs still, since they’re on a roll. We’ll have to beat them eventually.
The Orioles, meanwhile, have the worst record in the majors at 18-40. The only players on their roster with more than 0.2 WAR are pitchers Joel De La Cruz and Ryan Sherriff. Oof.
Come the start of June, we start to struggle, but thankfully we have a lot of help coming off the DL soon. Not soon enough to stop us from losing two of three to the Cubs again, but what are you gonna do? Unfortunately, this influx doesn’t seem to do much; we finish the month 12-14, including a seven game losing streak and a Brad Brach injury. That puts us at 45-36 overall, good for third in the NL Central. We’re 10 games back from the Cubs, and 1 behind the Pirates, although we’re also 1 ahead of the Diamondbacks for the second wild card.
Mychal Givens has slotted in well to our stellar bullpen. Carlos Martinez is disappointing though, which doesn’t help things, although the 3 Ws (Michael Wacha/Luke Weaver/Adam Wainwright) look strong with about 2 WAR each. On the offense, Machado and Molina have looked cold, and I’m going to bump up Carson Kelly’s starting time to account for the latter. I feel like all you can do for Manny is keep playing him and hope he gets better, though.
Just before the All-Star Break, Adam Jones sprains his ankle. He’ll miss seven weeks, and that depth is looking pretty nice again. It’s still going to cause problems, though, given his 146 OPS+. Kolten Wong is having a great year so far though, so it could be worse.
We only get two All-Star reps, Wacha and Dominic Leone, both who were already Cardinals before my meddling. Hmm. The NL lost, but our guys didn’t embarrass themselves, so whatever. More depressingly, we again only take one from the Cubs right after the break (this time out of four), and Adam Wainwright tears his UCL, ending his season. I guess that means it’s time to see what Dylan Bundy has (thankfully, his turn in the rotation goes better than his early bullpen performance, although it’s not All-Star quality or anything). Michael Wacha gets some tendinitis a little after this, so Alex Reyes gets a chance in the rotation too now (he doesn’t do quite as well).
I can’t wait for July to end. I keep getting trade proposals that interrupt my simulation, of other teams assuming I’m trying to dump some of my depth for prospects. No, my goal is to be ridiculously stacked, thank you.
We finally take a series from the Cubs, though. Bader wins Rookie of the Month again, and the lineup is heating up a little. A 15-11 month takes us to 60-47, and while the Cubs are running away with the division (up 13 games), we’re now the first wild card, half a game above Pittsburgh and two and a half above San Francisco. Plus, there are six games coming up against the Pirates in August to assert our dominance.
We get swept in the first one, including a 20-4 loss. Carlos Martinez is looking really bad lately (including that 20-4 game), so I put him on the DL (he has a mild strain) when Wacha is eligible to play again. We win a couple in a row, then Alex Reyes gets tendinitis, because of course he does. We end up winning nine in a row, though, so not bad overall. Adam Jones comes off the DL, and I end up benching Manny Machado, since he’s having the worst season of any of my position players. That’s definitely not something I expected to happen. Shortly after this, Bader gets injured. Again.
We take two of three from the Pirates to end the month, so it could be worse I guess. That gives us a record of 17-11 for August, and 77-58 in total. The Pirates must have had a miserable month outside of our two series, because they’re now 5 games behind us. And while we’re still eight behind of the Cubs, we’re three and a half ahead of the Mets in the second wild card slot. Our depth has been crucial, as only one player (Dexter Fowler) has even a chance to reach 5.0 WAR, but the only player on the entire roster who has been worth negative value is the minor leaguer called up when Bader went down. The Orioles are 42-93, meanwhile, with only three players worth even 1.5 WAR.
Unfortunately, we decide the start of September is the perfect time to go cold, as it takes us 11 games to finally reach 81 wins on the year. The Pirates take two of three again, in St. Louis this time. Despite that, we’re still in playoff positions as long as we hold on; two games above Pittsburgh, two and a half above New York.
Things fall apart from there, though, as we go 7-9 the rest of the way. We finish the year 88-74, one game behind the Pirates and three behind the Mets, with elimination coming on the last day of the regular season. Ultimately, even without any real holes on our roster, we just had our best players out a little too often, and some players that should have been sure things took too long to figure it out. Also, raiding the Orioles helped, but eventually, there wasn’t enough left to patch those resulting holes.
It is worth noting, though, that the Orioles didn’t even finish with the worst record in the Majors; at an atrocious 52-110, they were still two games ahead of the White Sox. Their only player worth even 2.0 WAR was Javy Baez (a mid-season acquisition), and De La Cruz and Melky Cabrera were the only ones who reached even a meager 1.5 Wins. That sounds like it made for a miserable experience for their fans, and yet, their .321 winning percentage was still well ahead of the 1899 Spiders’ .130 mark.