THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

A mayday call in second month?

Clay Buchholz is a bit down as Mark Teixeira rounds third after his first homer.
Clay Buchholz is a bit down as Mark Teixeira rounds third after his first homer. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 9, 2010

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I don’t want to panic or overreact, but is it possible the Red Sox season is already over? Is it time for Danny Ainge to toss a white towel onto the Fenway lawn?

Was run prevention a giant sack of fool’s gold?

Did Theo Epstein know this might be coming when he talked about the bridge year?

I’m being silly, right? The Sox (ghoulish 14-3 losers to the Yankees yesterday) have played only 31 games, 20 percent of the schedule. In past years we have seen 14-game deficits erased after July 20. There’s tons of time. The season has only just begun.

The Red Sox are 15-16. They are 7 games behind the Yankees, 7 1/2 behind Tampa Bay. The Yankees at this time last year were 15-16, 5 1/2 games out of first place. They wound up winning the World Series.

“No one is quitting,’’ GM Epstein said in the Sox clubhouse/morgue after yesterday’s debacle. “We’re better than this. We just can’t dig too deep a hole. It’s the second week of May. It’s not too late. Is there urgency? Of course.’’

Making up seven or eight games is certainly possible. It happens every year. But the 2010 Sox have two powerhouses to catch, and thus far they have done nothing to indicate great things are in store. They are 1-8 against the Rays and Yanks, all at Fenway. Yesterday’s embarrassment ended with rookie center fielder Jonathan Van Every on the mound for the locals. Oh, and Mark Teixeira hit three homers. Good thing the Sox didn’t sign him. Those homers and RBIs are really overrated, right?

So maybe this is the dreaded season of the witch. Maybe this is the “off’’ year after making the playoffs six times in seven seasons. Maybe this is the year the Sox are virtually eliminated while the Bruins and Celtics are still alive in conference semifinal playoff series.

To his credit, Epstein was not hiding.

“We haven’t played well,’’ he said. “But we believe in our guys. With our starting pitching, we just need guys to do what they are capable of doing. The defense so far is not at all up to our capability. Not even close. It’s got to get better. I think everyone is frustrated we’re not playing better.’’

When they leave town Wednesday night, the Sox will have played 23 of their first 35 games at Fenway. Traditionally, the Sox crush people at home. This year they are 9-10 at Fenway. Traditionally, the Red Sox crush the Orioles. They were 16-2 against Baltimore last year. This year, they are 2-4 against Baltimore.

The schedule isn’t going to get easier. They face A.J. Burnett (4-0, 1.99 ERA) tonight. Their next 17 games are against New York, Toronto, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay. All those teams are over .500. Three are division leaders.

Your Sox do not look like division leaders. Or playoff candidates. They look like trading deadline sellers.

Hitting is not the problem. The Sox are third in the league in batting average, homers, and runs.

It’s the pitching and defense. The Sox’ staff ERA (5.11) puts them near the bottom of the American League. Boston’s vaunted starters (best in baseball?) have an ERA of 5.21.

The defense has been shoddy. Poor Adrian Beltre committed his seventh error yesterday. No player in major league baseball has more miscues than Beltre, who was brought here for his defense. He’s on a pace to commit 35 errors.

After a winter of talking about run prevention, the Sox have been dramatically sloppy. It truly makes you wonder what Theo and the minions were thinking. They brought a 37-year-old (Mike Cameron) in to play center field and moved their fleet young center fielder to left. Both have been hurt, which is nobody’s fault, but moving Jacoby Ellsbury out of center still makes no sense. Thirty-seven-year-old players do not play center field, but they do get hurt.

It looks like those sun-deprived stat geeks eating pudding in their basement (the same nitwits who insist that homers and RBIs are overrated) outsmarted themselves in assessing this unit. Marco Scutaro is not better than Alex Gonzalez (not to rub it in, but Gonzo has 10 homers already for the Blue Jays). The Cameron-Ellsbury combo hasn’t gotten out of the trainer’s room, and Beltre is emerging as an Edgar Renteria or Rasheed Wallace, take your pick.

Then there’s the catching situation, which again calls the judgment of John Henry’s beloved baseball ops people into question. When they drew up the plan for run prevention, how did they not factor catching into the equation? With Victor Martinez behind the plate, it’s a parade of stolen bases and poor throws. The staff ERA has been over 5.00 in games caught by Martinez since August. V-Mart will be trade bait if the Sox fall out of contention. If he sticks with Boston, he’s probably going to have to play first base or designated hitter.

DH. Now there’s an interesting situation. At this moment the Sox have a $24 million platoon of designated hitters — Mike Lowell and David Ortiz. Both are character guys with outstanding résumés, but neither can run or play defense. And Ortiz (.178, 27 strikeouts in 73 at-bats) looks like he can’t hit anymore.

How could they have traded Lowell to Texas, then wound up with Lowell as platoon DH? And did anyone actually think Ortiz was going to reverse his decline after what we watched in the 2008 playoffs and all of last season?

Lowell, one of the few players who took questions last night, said, “I wouldn’t say we’re embarrassed. We’re not happy with the way we’re playing. Now we have to salvage not getting swept. I like to leave bad performances in the past and try to move on. When it’s this lopsided, why dwell on it?’’

The immortal Earl Weaver always said, “You’re never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose.’’ It’s important to remember those words today. Try to remind yourself that the Sox can’t be this bad all year. They still score a lot of runs and have a stable of solid starting pitchers.

But is it possible they’ve ruined our summer before we even got to the final month of spring?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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