Despite taking a two-run lead into the eighth inning, the Royals lost their ninth straight game last night and are within one quality Cliff Lee start away from the worst record in the American League. They haven't seen the .500 mark since May 22nd; remarkably, the Royals had even tasted first place a week earlier thanks to the collective misery of flyover teams in aught-nine.
But unlike their four division-mates, the Royals haven't won a division title this decade. In fact, they're living through one of the worst stretches in baseball history.
Bradford Doolittle ran the numbers and figured out that the Royals have already lost 907 games between 2000 and 2009. If they lose 56 more games this season, they'll get the 1920-29 Phillies (962 losses) off the hook for the dubious title of "worst ever team performance in a decade". Poor Butch Henline's great-grandchildren are giddy with expectation and said to be rooting for Trey Hillman to slot Willie Bloomquist at leadoff every day.
Heck, imagine if the Royals hadn't won all those games (83!) back in 2003, they'd be well on their way to breaking that record.
Of course, the Royals are not alone in their incessant commitment to failure. The Pittsburgh Pirates have something like 72 consecutive losing seasons, a point that gets belabored every time the Pirates come to your town and the TV announcers need to fill some time. But this decade, the Buccos have "only" lost 859 games. No wonder they've been trading away their best players like Adam La Roche with such fervor: they want to 'catch up' with the Royals! But maybe the Pirates' habit of shedding their entire starting lineup is strategically sound.
When Neal Huntington came on as general manager in 2007 to replace the much-maligned Dave Littlefield, he had a choice: continue trying to win with the pieces left behind by Littlefied, a quixotic task indeed, or begin a systematic shedding of mildly expensive and sorta-talented veterans to grab onto some extremely cheap but unproven youngsters with higher ceilings.
He's raided the AL East pantry over the past two years for kids he can control and held dearly onto the best prospects already in the Pittsburgh organization. The man had a plan; a plan that could still potentially fail miserably, but a plan nonetheless.
So while the Royals continue to fumble around with bizarre free agent signings and peculiar trades that try the patience of their most devoted fans, the Pirates are making smart moves that should end the losing streak as soon as next season. And don't forget, they still have a couple of secret weapons at their disposal.
(thanks to Big League Stew)