It’s easy to poke fun at the Kansas City Royals current plight, and I plan to do just that, but first I’d like to talk about how impressive going 43 consecutive innings without scoring a run actually is.
If you’re a fan of the (formerly Baseball Prospectus-run) podcast Effectively Wild, you’ve probably heard the story of the Salina Stockade, easily the most hapless organization in baseball this season and possibly ever (Ben Lindbergh has a compelling read on Salina at the Ringer if you’d like to check it out). Pulled into indy ball’s American Association by bizarre circumstances from the Pecos League, the Stockade have not been competitive in the slightest and currently sit at 18-75, 37.5 games out in the AA South and more than 20 games behind the league’s worst team, non-Salina division.
They haven’t been shut out in four straight games. Nor have they gone 43 innings without scoring.
Baseball has a pretty long history, so when you drop references to the 1985 Astros, 1968 Cubs and 1906 A’s (as in Philadelphia A’s), infamy is all that awaits you.
But again—low-hanging fruit. Everybody’s gonna have a “What’s the most inept offensive stretch of baseball in MLB history?” take, so that’s no fun.
But what about the 10 longest INDIVIDUAL scoreless streaks in MLB history? Could the current Royals—no confidence, wavering with the season in the balance—touch some of the best (or luckiest) hurlers in MLB history?
This has been exhaustively researched and is not negotiable. We’ll go in reverse order, only including live ball era. Everybody from the dead ball era is… well, dead. So they’re definitely out.
10 (three-way tie). Luis Tiant (1968), Ted Lyons (1926), Clayton Kershaw (2014); 41 IP
Then: Tiant was on his game in ’68, which—as you’ll see below—was a great year for pitchers. Kershaw was peak Kershaw. Lyons pitched all but seven innings during his streak on the road. The Royals would touch none of them.
Now: Kershaw is still Kershaw; he could probably no-hit the Royals twice in addition to a scoreless streak.
El Tiante is now 76 years old, but drag him out against the bottom of the order and you could probably still see a scoreless inning thanks to his funky delivery (don’t see the high leg kick much in 2017). And since Lyons has been dead since before I was born, I can guarantee the Royals wouldn’t score on him.
7. Brandon Webb (2007); 42 IP
Then: Webb was the reigning NL Cy Young winner and in the midst of a runner-up season. He recorded three straight complete-game shutouts. The Royals would not touch him.
Now: Webb’s entire right side essentially exploded in 2009. That’ll make it tough for him to pitch, thereby making it tough for the Royals to score on him. Force him to throw left-handed and it’s another story…probably.
6. Sal Maglie (1950); 45 IP
Then: The Barber mixed relief work and starts to 45 scoreless innings, limiting opponents to three extra-base hits despite a 3:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I think—probably by accident—the Royals would score on him.
Now: Died in 1992. Definitely couldn’t give up a run in 2017.
5. Carl Hubbell (1933); 45.1 IP
Then: NL MVP was a year away from one of baseball’s most inanely memorable moments: striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in the 1934 All-Star game. If players took the game as seriously then as they do now, the Babe didn’t get to bed until sun up that morning and was nursing a hangover larger than Foxx’s bicep muscles.
The early-30s aren’t exactly baseball’s halcyon days, but Hubbell threw a screwball, a trick up his sleeve seldom seen in the modern game. If he didn’t suck (and MVP awards, etc., indicate that he didn’t), these Royals would be toast.
Now: Dead since 1988. No runs allowed 29 years later.
4. Zack Greinke (2015); 45.2 IP
Then: One of the best pitchers in baseball, who put together six straight scoreless starts and led the league in ERA (1.66) and ERA+ (222).
Now: One of the best pitchers in baseball. Either way, the current iteration of Royals ain’t touching Greinke, unless he gets whimsical about his time in KC and grooves one in there to Mike Moustakas.
3. Bob Gibson (1968); 47 IP
Then: Among the most terrifying people to ever hold a baseball, who posted possibly the greatest season by a pitcher in history—1.12 ERA, 28 complete games, 13 shutouts. The 2017 Royals are toast against Peak Gibson.
Now: 81 years old. Could probably still fan Brandon Moss, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon with relative ease.
2. Don Drysdale (1968); 58 IP
Then: Thought to put this record out of reach with six straight shutouts. 31 years old in 1968, with a heightened mound to boot. Drysdale was a good pitcher, but this wasn’t his prime and if you lower the mound, the Royals can probably get to him within 58 innings.
Now: Dead since 1993. That’ll keep runs off the board.
1. Orel Hershiser (1988); 59 IP
Then: NL Cy Young, 41 straight scoreless innings on the road, under pennant chase conditions. And he technically brought this streak to 67 innings in the postseason. Good luck, 2017 Royals offense actively falling into a crater.
Now: The most interesting ‘now’ case study, Hershiser hasn’t thrown a pitch in 17 years. And yet…he’d still probably toss up some zeroes against the currently hapless (and runless) Royals.
Although this is (mostly) tongue-in-cheek—we have fun here—I’d like to reiterate that the Royals have been historically terrible for a week now. Knowing this bizarre team, they’ll put up 25 runs Tuesday and Wednesday. Fun times! Pass the Prozac.