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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rays’ Chris Archer on target to be first pitcher with 20 losses since 2003

Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays

Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Bob Levey

Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays will take the mound on Sunday against the Blue Jays trying to avoid an ignominious fate.

If he can’t, he’ll be on his way to an even more ignominious fate.

Archer has 17 losses this season, which is one short of the Tampa Bay record set by former Yankee Tanyon Sturtze in 2002.

Archer also is closing in on 20. No pitcher has lost 20 since Mike Maroth went 9-21 for Detroit in 2003.

Here’s the thing: Archer is a much, much better pitcher than Sturtze and Maroth ever were.

“I don’t know how he could lose 20 games, as good as he is,” said Mets infielder Kelly Johnson, Archer’s teammate with the Rays in 2013.

Archer, 27, is 8-17 with a 4.10 ERA in 28 starts. He has about seven left, including Sunday. His next one after that is scheduled for Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

Archer went into Saturday leading the American League in strikeouts with 202 in 169 innings. But the Rays were 57-76.

“Would I be alarmed if I were his teammate or the organization that he’s losing so many games?” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be. I know how hard he works. I know how much he cares and how much effort he puts in and how much he does for the community. The guy’s a stud. This is one of those situations he’s going to look back and think, ‘Man, that one year was crazy. I can’t believe it.’ ’’

Losing 20 used to be common and hardly noteworthy in the early days of baseball, when starting pitchers racked up many more decisions than the pitchers of today.

For the most extreme example, John Coleman went 12-48 for the Philadelphia team in the National League in 1883. Coleman threw 538 1⁄3 innings (he clearly was not on an innings or pitch limit). That’s the most losses in big-league history.

Vic Willis lost 25 games for the Boston Beaneaters in 1904 and another 29 in 1905. Ninety years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee with a career record of 249-205.

Among the other Hall of Famers who have lost 20 are Cy Young (who never won a Cy Young Award), Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro (twice) and Steve Carlton.

The last Mets pitcher to lose 20 was Jerry Koosman, who went 8-20 in 1977. The year before, he went 21-10.

Mel Stottlemyre did the same thing for the Yankees. He went 20-9 in 1965 and followed it up with a 12-20 mark in 1966.

The Mets had at least one 20-game loser in each of their first four seasons. Al Jackson went 8-20 in 1962 and 1965, Roger Craig went 5-22 in 1963, Tracy Stallard went 10-20 in 1964 and Jack Fisher went 8-24 in 1965.

Two years before he was perfect in the World Series, Don Larsen went 3-21 with the 1954 Orioles.

Bobo Newsom lost 20 three times in the 1930s and ’40s with three different teams.

The 1973 White Sox had a pair of 20-game losers in Wilbur Wood and Stan Bahnsen. Wood went 24-20 and Bahnsen, a former Yankee, was 18-21.

But back to Archer. The Rays haven’t said if they will continue to let him pitch if he gets to 19 losses. If they do shut him down, the irony will be huge because a) the notion that starting pitchers are solely responsible for or should be judged by wins and losses has mostly been debunked in the sabermetrics era; and b) the Rays are one of the most committed organizations in baseball when it comes to using analytics and advanced statistics.

Still. It would stink to be a 20-game loser, wouldn’t it? Or is any publicity good publicity?

Brian Kingman (8-20 for the 1980 A’s) was the last 20-game loser before Maroth. Kingman used to relish the attention he would get when a pitcher got close.

“I figured, ‘Hey, that’d be like if you were a scientist getting linked to Einstein or something,’ ’’ Kingman said in 2011. “I was being mentioned with Cy Young and Walter Johnson . . . I feel sorry for those guys who get all the way to 19. They might as well take the final step and lose 20.”

Biggest Losers

Pitchers who have lost 20 games or more in a season since 1965, ranked by losses:

Pitcher Record

Jack Fisher, 1965 Mets 8-24

Randy Jones, 1974 Padres 8-22

Dick Ellsworth, 1966 Cubs 8-22

Denny McLain, 1971 Tigers 10-22

Bill Bonham, 1974 Cubs 11-22

Steve Rogers, 1974 Expos 15-22

Mike Maroth, 2003 Tigers 9-21

Steve Arlin, 1972 Padres 10-21

Larry Jackson, 1965 Cubs 14-21

Mickey Lolich, 1971 Tigers 16-21

Stan Bahnsen, 1973 White Sox 18-21

Clay Kirby, 1969 Padres 7-20

Al Jackson, 1965 Mets 8-20

Jerry Koosman, 1977 Mets 8-20

Brian Kingman, 1980 A’s 8-20

Luis Tiant, 1969 Indians 9-20

Clyde Wright, 1974 Brewers 9-20

Mel Stottlemyre, 1966 Yankees 12-20

Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies 13-20

Wilbur Wood, 1975 White Sox 16-20

Phil Niekro, 1977 Braves 16-20

Phil Niekro, 1979 Braves 21-20

Wilbur Wood, 1973 White Sox 24-20

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