I read something last night -- the 1908 Cardinals lost 33 games by the score of 1-0.
That seemed off-the-charts amazing, so I checked out the team's game log at B-Ref ... and it is not quite as amazing. It turns out that Cardinals team was shut out 33 times, by any score. (They lost seven 1-0 games.) That is the major league record for most shutouts suffered in one season. The AL record is 30 games, by the 1909 Senators.
(This year, the Dodgers have been shut out 17 times.)
Both of those teams also hold their respective league's record for fewest runs scored in a season: St. Louis with 372 and Washington with 380. (The 2001 edition of The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book says 380, but B-Ref has 382.)
I looked a little closer at Washington's season. They finished 42-110, with a dismal .276 winning percentage that put them 56 GB the Tigers. And they may actually have had some good luck, since they out-performed their expected record by two games!
The Senators' on-base percentage was .276 -- which was actually higher than their .275 slugging percentage. Of course, this was the Deadball Era -- the AL averages were only .303 and .309, respectively. But, still.
In games the Senators allowed more than one run, they were 21-104, .168. Now that is having little margin for error.
Walter Johnson had a 2.22 ERA that season and a 13-25 record. In a low-scoring era, Johnson had an ERA+ of only 109*. In 2010, that would be equal to Livan Hernandez (3.73, 109 ERA+) or maybe Gavin Floyd (4.08 ERA, 107 ERA+) or Jeremy Guthrie (3.83, 111 ERA+).
* But he was only 21, in his third season. He became Walter Effin' Johnson the following year.
I checked another team from the same time period that I thought might be even worse: the 1916 Philadelphia A's. After winning the 1910, 1911, and 1913 World Series, and winning the AL pennant in 1914, Connie Mack dismantled his team, and they sunk quickly into the basement*.
* - They were 99-53 in 1914, but were swept in the World Series by the "Miracle" Boston Braves. (This WS may not have been totally on the level, though you could say that about any of the WS at that time.) In 1915**, however, the A's finished dead last, 43-109. And they were even worse in 1916.
** - The Federal League also began operations in 1915, hoping to be a third major league. Teams offered players much more money and many jumped to the new league, including two A's pitchers, Chief Bender, the team's top starter in 1914, and Eddie Plank. The Feds lasted only two seasons and it was not pretty when the various players tried coming back to the AL and NL.
The 1916 A's finished 36-117, .235. After May 8, they won two consecutive games only twice, sweeping doubleheaders on August 12 and October 3.
On the morning of June 3, the A's were 15-24, nine games out of first place. Philadelphia won only four of their next 61 games -- a .066 winning percentage -- and on August 8, they were 19-80, 38.5 GB. There was a 20-game losing streak in there, as well.
Finally, when the 1916 A's allowed more than one run, they were 20-114, .149, even more pathetic than the 1908 Senators.