By Dan Shaughnessy
May 03, 2010

The Red Sox are scuffling and you can hear the cackling from coast to coast.

Those legions of Boston fans who come to your town, take over your ballpark, and chant, "Let's go, Red Sox" are suddenly silent.

The Sox just got swept in Baltimore. I repeat, swept in Baltimore.

"Everyone thought Baltimore was three easy wins and we got our butts kicked three times,'' admitted Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

It strains believability. The Red Sox have one of the top payrolls in all of baseball. They have positively owned the Orioles for the last decade and went 16-2 against Baltimore last year. This year's Orioles might be worse than ever.

And they just swept the Red Sox.

Over two weekends, Baltimore beat Boston four straight times. This means that the Orioles are 4-2 against the Red Sox and 3-16 against the rest of the American League.

So what's up with Boston? How could this be happening? The Sox won two of the last six World Series. The Sox have been in the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. Payroll is up. Fenway had been sold out for 563 consecutive games.

Going into Monday night's action, the Sox are 11-14, trailing the Tampa Bay Rays (who swept a four game set from the Sox at Fenway) by seven games and the Yankees by five and a half games. Boston comes home this week for four games with the Angels, then a weekend set with the Yankees. It's the first week of May and Sox fans are already wondering if the season is over.

Injuries are part of Boston's problem. Mike Cameron has a hernia and hasn't played since April 18. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury cracked four ribs and has been out since April 12. Those are two of the six center fielders manager Terry Francona has used so far. Kevin Youkilis missed Sunday's game with a groin strain. The Sox on Sunday started four backup players and had only two healthy subs. Veteran Mike Lowell played first base for the first time in his major league career.

But it's more than injuries. It's underperformance and a dysfunctional roster that's killing the Red Sox.

Boston's vaunted starting pitching staff has an ERA of 4.96. The bullpen has been worse. The Sox have the third-highest ERA in the American League.

Meanwhile, Victor Martinez, J.D. Drew, and David Ortiz have not hit. Drew is batting .214. Martinez and Ortiz have 13 RBIs between them.

Drew and Martinez are probably going to hit, but Ortiz looks like a candidate to be released. After a great career with the Sox, Big Papi is a burden in the lineup. He's hitting .159 with three homers, all solo. It's been clear for two years now that he is done and the Sox made a mistake bringing him back as fulltime DH.

Some of us hold that the Red Sox are getting exactly what they deserve. Owner John Henry backed out on signing Mark Teixeira two winters ago, then let Jason Bay take his 36 homers and 119 RBIs out of town.

Saying goodbye to power, Boston's new philosophy was supposed to be "run prevention.''

It's a myth. The Sox have the second-most errors of any American League team. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, one of the key imports expected to make their defense airtight, has been a butcher.

Shortstop Marco Scutaro has been no upgrade defensively. Cameron, 37, has been on the shelf. And the catching has been simply awful. The Sox don't throw out enemy basestealers. Martinez has been sub-par calling games.

The good news is that the Sox still have strong starting pitching and should be artificially inflated by the bottom-feeders of the American League. But it might be too late to save this season. The Rays are beating everyone and have four young, solid starters. The Yankees are the defending world champs. There's blood in the River Charles.

Before the Sox hit the road for Toronto and Baltimore, GM Theo Epstein sat in the Fenway dugout and talked about his team "playing bad baseball.''

Boston Herald reporter John Tomase caught up with Theo again after the debacle in Baltimore and the GM said, "Things haven't really changed. We talked about this last week and we're still playing bad baseball. Unintelligent, undisciplined, uninspired baseball. It's got to change. It either changes itself or we have to do something to change it.''

His options are limited.

We can't say Theo didn't warn us. Last winter Epstein talked about 2010 possibly being a bridge year for Boston. He indicated that the Sox might take a dip while the organization's minor league talent matured.

Looks like he was right. And the bridge year has Boston fans jumping off the Tobin Bridge.

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