Worst starts by defending champs, WS winners

April 7th, 2019

The defending champion Red Sox, as you may have heard, are now 2-8 this season. That’s tied for the worst 10-game start in franchise history, done seven other times, most recently in 2011 (1996, '45, '32, '27, '25, '05). However, not all hope is lost.

There have been four teams in the Wild Card era (since 1995) that started 2-8 or worse and gone on to make the postseason. They are the 1995 Reds, 2001 A’s, '07 Phillies, and '11 Rays. None of those teams won the World Series; however, there have been teams to start 2-8 and win it all (more on that below).

The Red Sox are the fifth reigning World Series champion to start 2-8 or worse, and the first since the 1998 Marlins started 1-9. They hold the distinction for the worst 10-game start by a reigning World Series champions.

What about trying to win it this year? The 2-8 record matches the worst start by any team to go on to win the World Series. It’s been done four times, most recently by the 1991 Twins.

Here’s a closer look at the worst 10-game start by defending World Series champs, as well as the worst 10-game starts by eventual World Series champs.


1998 Marlins: 1-9, finished 54-108 (.333), 52 GB

The Marlins had gone on to win the World Series in 1997, their first 90-win season. But following the '97 season, they traded Moises Alou to the Astros in November. The Marlins went on to trade Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Jeff Conine, Edgar Renteria, Bobby Bonilla and Charles Johnson, too. In other words, the '98 start was not entirely unforeseen -- but it did set a record for reigning champs.

2019 Red Sox: 2-8, finish TBD

The Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games in 2018, so following that up was going to be tough. Nonetheless, they were a popular pick to repeat as American League East champions for the fourth year in a row and make the postseason. In the early season, though, Boston's pitching has posed a problem -- the Red Sox have allowed 23 home runs through 10 games. Last year, they allowed their 23rd home run in their 26th game. Saturday night was the first time all season that the Red Sox did not allow a home run in a game. They already have eight losses -- they lost their eighth game on May 1 last season, to drop them to 21-8.

1984 Orioles: 2-8, finished 85-77 (.525), 19 GB

The O’s had won the 1983 World Series in five games over the Phillies after winning 98 games in the regular season. They didn’t have a whole lot of roster turnover from 1983-84, but some individuals regressed from career-year World Series levels. But they managed to finish above .500 and would do so in 1985 as well before posting a losing season in '86, their first since '67.

1964 Dodgers: 2-8, finished 80-82 (.494), 13 GB

After winning 102 games in 1962 but not playing in the World Series, the '63 Dodgers won 99 games and swept the World Series against the Yankees in the Fall Classic. In '64, injuries struck, most notably to Sandy Koufax, who injured his elbow while diving back to beat a pickoff throw and saw his season end in mid-August. And workhorse Johnny Podres was limited to 2 2/3 innings.

1947 Cardinals: 2-8, finished 89-65 (.578), 5 GB

The Cardinals were on the heels of four World Series appearances in five years from 1942-46, including three series wins. Beginning with '47, the Cardinals would go on to not appear in another World Series until '64. St. Louis had won 98 games in '46 en route to a World Series appearance against the Red Sox and a seven-game series win. Ultimately, the Cards finished the season above .500, but in second place.


1991 Twins: 2-8, finished 95-67 (.586)

The 1990 Twins had gone 74-88 and the start of '91 looked like it might be more of the same. But after a 2-8 start, the Twins went 93-59 the rest of the way to cement the division. They won the ALCS in five games against the Blue Jays, then won “worst-to-first” World Series against the Braves thanks to Jack Morris’ heroics in Game Seven.

1977 Yankees: 2-8, finished 100-62 (.617)

The 1976 Yankees had won 97 games and gotten swept in the World Series by the Reds. Expectations were high, as the team had given Reggie Jackson a big contract entering the season, looking to end the club’s 15-year title “drought”. The Jackson deal ended up paying off, even if it didn’t look that way in the first 10 games of the season. That '77 team went on to rebound from a 2-8 start to win 100 games for the season. They won the World Series in six games over the Dodgers with Mr. Jackson cementing his status as “Mr. October” with three homers in the final game. (And, of course, Jackson and the Yankees would beat the Dodgers again the World Series the following year.)

1935 Tigers: 2-8, finished 93-58 (.616)

The 1935 Tigers missed out on being on the worst starts by World Series champions list by one game -- they’d lost the '34 World Series in seven games to the Cardinals in a season they’d won 101 games. Instead, their 2-8 record makes the list of worst starts to go on to win the World Series -- as the team went on to win 93 games and clinch a spot in the World Series for the second year in a row. They took down the Cubs in six games, and that slow start was forgotten.

1914 Braves: 2-8, finished 94-59 (.614)

The Braves’ franchise hadn’t posted a winning record since 1902, when they went 73-64 for a .533 winning percentage as the Boston Beaneaters. The start of the '14 season looked like it would be more of the same. They didn’t just start 2-8, they were 4-16 through 20 decisions (21 games played). But they reeled off some winning streaks, including two separate nine-game streaks, to finish with 94 wins total and a spot in the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, who they swept.