How far will the Orioles turn back the clock?

Seventeen games have proven to be an ample sample size for fans who already are declaring the season to be the worst in Orioles history.

Some of the verdicts came in much earlier. After the club was swept in Houston in the first road series. Or, going back further, after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

Nerves continued to fray and more hairs were ripped from scalps last night with a 4-2 loss in Detroit, the sixth for the Orioles in the last seven games to lower their record to 5-12.

orioles-opening-day-lineup.jpgI wasn’t on the beat back in 1988, but I lived through the 0-21 start, the firing of Cal Ripken Sr. after only six games, and the 54-107 record. I didn’t pay much attention to run differentials, but it was -239 for the Orioles.

Not good, right?

They had the worst record in baseball, but just barely. The Braves played 160 games and went 54-106.

The Orioles finished 34 ½ games behind the Red Sox in the seven-team American League East. The Indians were sixth at 78-84 and 11 games back.

A walk-off win on opening day assured the Orioles of a better start than the 1988 team. The rotation should collectively give them better starts considering some of the names chosen 30 years ago.

Sixteen pitchers made starts for the Orioles, led by Jose Bautista (25), Jeff Ballard (25), Jay Tibbs (24), Mike Boddicker (21) and Oswaldo Perez (15). Boddicker was traded to the Red Sox on July 29 for pitcher Curt Schilling and outfielder Brady Anderson.

Ballard went 8-12 with a 4.40 ERA, but he also had six complete games. I’ll go out on a limb and say no one on the current staff will match that total.

Starts in 1988 also were made by Mark Williamson (10), Mike Morgan (10), Dave Schmidt (nine), Mark Thurmond (six), Schilling (four), Scott McGregor (four), Bob Milacki (three), Pete Harnisch (two), Dickie Noles (two) and Gordon Dillard (one). That’s depth or desperation.

Dillard, a 14th round pick out of Oklahoma State, made seven appearances in the majors over two seasons, including two with the Orioles. His only start came on Aug. 17 against the Athletics at Memorial Stadium. He allowed two runs and three hits and walked four batters in 2 2/3 innings.

If you remember Dillard or that game, you have my undying respect and admiration.

Tom Niedenfuer was 18-for-23 in save opportunities and posted a 3.51 ERA and 13.22 WHIP in 59 innings. His first chance didn’t come until May 13, when he recorded the last five outs in a 4-1 win.

A closer on a 107-loss team is as valuable as a shot girl at Easter Service.

If you’re still confused, Niedenfuer is married to actress Judy Landers, not sister Audrey. I sat near her at a game and actually approached her afterward, shook her hand and said, “I’m a big fan of your work.”

I’m not sure she was buying it.

The pitching staff registered a 4.55 ERA that ranked last in the majors and a 1.43 WHIP that was last in the American League and ahead of only the Phillies (1.45).

The offense posted a .238 average that also was last in the majors and a .238/.305/.359 slash line, but the 137 home runs ranked eighth among baseball’s 26 clubs. The 869 strikeouts were the 16th-most in the majors, a ranking that today’s Orioles would covet.

Only six teams committed more errors than the Orioles’ total of 94. This year’s group already has totaled 12, the latest by newcomer Luis Sardiñas.

We know the present issues, how the offense should come with frost warnings and the defense hasn’t been dependable and the bullpen hasn’t been as sturdy as past years - Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. was overmatched and Mychal Givens has a 6.52 ERA after allowing another run last night - and the back end of the rotation is in serious scuffle mode. Jonathan Schoop, Colby Rasmus and Mark Trumbo are on the disabled list.

The Orioles have scored two runs or fewer in eight games. Trey Mancini and Manny Machado are the only regulars hitting, though Adam Jones showed signs of breaking out last night with two singles and an RBI.

Seventeen games is a blip in a baseball season. We’ll find out eventually whether this year’s team is going to leave the biggest blotch. Worse than a team that included Jeff Stone, Ken Gerhart, Wade Rowdon, Rick Schu and Pete Stanicek and a past-his-prime Fred Lynn. I’m not expecting it to happen, but it has to pitch better, hit better, field better and run the bases better. It can’t continue to strike out at such an alarming rate - 12 more last night. It can’t continue to squander opportunities with runners in scoring position.

That’s all.

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