Monday, April 19, 2010 Updated: April 20, 3:07 AM ET
Right now, they can't do anything right
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- It's not as if the bridge-jumpers are lacking in incentive -- brutal defense, nonexistent hitting, and ragged pitching having already served that purpose. But have we mentioned that no Red Sox team has ever started out 4-9 (or worse) and advanced to the postseason?
Center fielder Bill Hall, who was pressed into playing a position he hasn't played since 2007, and J.D. Drew can't get to B.J. Upton's homer on Monday. Hall nearly hurt himself on the play.
The Tampa Bay Rays did not win the American League East when they completed a four-game sweep of the Sox here Monday with an 8-2 wipeout on Patriots' Day, which is a state holiday but felt more like a day of mourning on Yawkey Way.
But the Rays, now 10-3 and off to their best start in team history, and Red Sox barely belong in the same universe these days, never mind sharing equal billing as postseason contenders.
"When you don't show up to play," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, spitting out the words like a stream of two-day-old tobacco juice, "you're going to get beat. It doesn't matter if it's Tampa Bay or [expletive] Brookline High."
You can be reasonably certain that Pedroia in that moment did not realize he was invoking the alma mater of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein to belittle the efforts of this $170 million malfunctioning machine on Yawkey Way. But Epstein can hardly escape some blame for the team's five-game skid, not after gambling (and losing) that the Sox could survive the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury without summoning another healthy body.
The choice not to put Ellsbury on the 15-day disabled list was somewhat defensible as long as the Sox thought they'd have Mike Cameron at the ready. Cameron defied the pain thresholds of many fellow men when he returned to the Sox lineup a day after passing a kidney stone, but the recovery was short-lived and his participation perhaps ill-advised.
Cameron was not feeling well when he dropped a routine liner leading to four unearned runs Sunday, and a day later he was back in the hospital, undergoing tests for what the club at first thought was another kidney stone. A CT scan indicated that was not the case, so now the team is uncertain what is causing Cameron's abdominal stress.
"We've got multiple doctors trying to figure out what's going on," Francona said.
No GM is prescient enough to have predicted that Cameron's problems would return. But Ellsbury, eight days after colliding with third baseman Adrian Beltre in Kansas City, has shown just "minimal" improvement, according to manager Terry Francona, and appears unlikely to return for the Rangers series, which begins Tuesday night.
The Sox had debated bringing in another outfielder before the Rays series, secretly stashing Josh Reddick in a Boston hotel room. When Cameron looked as if he'd be OK, Reddick was returned to Pawtucket. He may be on the next shuttle back to Boston, though, as Francona said he and Epstein would revisit the subject after another blundering performance by the Sox outfield.
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"There's a lot of uncertainty going on," Francona said. "We're a little bit short right now. Things haven't been going our way, that's for sure."
Left fielder Jeremy Hermida, who makes Jason Bay look like a Gold Glover by comparison, allowed Jason Bartlett's one-out single in the third to skip past him for an error, the opening salvo of what would become a five-run Rays third. Later in the same inning, Bill Hall, whose best position is third base but who has been pressed into service as a center fielder, a position he hadn't played since 2007, nearly impaled himself on the Boston bullpen wall in futile pursuit of B.J. Upton's drive that landed in the 'pen for a three-run home run.
"I thought maybe Billy had a chance," Francona said, "and that thing just kept going and going and going. Ends up being a big blow."
An inning later, Hall couldn't handle the carom of Bartlett's ball off the wall and was originally charged with an error as the Rays shortstop took an extra base, to third. Official scorer Charles Scoggins later changed the call to a triple, but Bartlett trotted home with the final Rays run on Carl Crawford's sacrifice fly.
The Sox defense has committed eight errors during the team's five-game losing streak, and they could easily have been charged with a couple of more, undermining the credibility of the pledge that the 2010 version of the Sox would be a significant upgrade over the previous model.
But the early-season breakdowns have been across the board. The Sox have now gone 48 innings since they last held a lead, and have been outscored 32-9 in their five-game losing streak. They are hitting .196 (33-for-168) in that span, including 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position. The staff ERA during the streak is 4.79, as Lackey became the third straight Sox starter to fall behind by four or more runs within the first three innings.
"I have no words," said DH David Ortiz, who now has plenty of company when it comes to Sox non-producers.
Six Sox players are batting .219 or less, including Kevin Youkilis, who was hot early but had just one hit, a home run, in 15 at-bats during the Tampa Bay series. J.D. Drew is batting .146 (6-for-41) with nearly three times as many strikeouts as hits (6), the 17 whiffs leading the American League. Francona suggested he has been too passive; his critics would suggest the word is "comatose."
Martinez grounded into double plays in each of the last two games of the series and leads the league in that category with six.
In their last 66 innings, dating back to a week ago last Sunday in Kansas City, the Sox have had just two innings in which they've scored as many as three runs.
"We're not bunching anything together," said Francona, who has had to shuffle his lineup repeatedly because of the injuries and doesn't know what a wholesale remake would accomplish. "We're going through a really tough time. Team-wide, we're doing things not good enough."
Hermida provided the only offense Monday with a home run off Jeff Niemann following Hall's two-out single in the seventh.
Playing at Fenway, where the Sox had a league-best 56-25 record last season, has hardly proven a balm.
The Sox, who lost two of three to the Yankees in the season's opening series, were swept for the first time ever by the Rays (three or more games) and are now 1-6 on Yawkey Way, their worst start at home since 1932. The Sox of '32 lost 111 games, still a franchise record.
What does a team do when everything goes wrong? "That's what everybody wants to know," Martinez said.
"It's 162 games. It's not going to last 162 games."
For the bridge-jumpers, that's little comfort.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.