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Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox might be in serious trouble

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Heath Hembree walks off the field after giving up a solo walk-off home run to Oakland Athletics' Mark Canha during the 10th inning of a baseball game Friday, May 19, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Oakland won 3-2. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Things could be going better for the Boston Red Sox.

Boston lost, 3-2, on a walk-off home run Friday night, one that not even Jackie Bradley Jr. could reel in. Despite having Chris Sale on the mound, the Sox dropped to 21-20 on the season, four games back of the first-place Yankees and only four games up on the worst teams in the American League. They are 12-15 in their last 27 games since a four-game winning streak from April 11-14, and haven’t mustered a winning streak of even three games since.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the day leading up to their second straight loss to the last-place Athletics only gave the Red Sox more reason to panic, as David Price — who still has yet to throw a regular-season pitch — struggled in his first rehab assignment with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. The veteran left-hander, who is working his way back from left elbow troubles, allowed three runs on five hits in just two innings, and took 65 pitches to do it. Despite being scheduled to throw more, the two innings taxed him enough to cut his outing short, meaning at least one, if not two more such rehab starts remain before he might join the major league rotation.

That is, to put it mildly, not good.

The Red Sox rotation is already struggling badly. Their 4.60 starters’ ERA ranks 23rd in baseball and is second-worst in the American League behind, surprisingly enough, the Cleveland Indians. That number is even more troubling when you factor in how good Sale has been; non-Sale Boston starters have pitched 172 innings of 5.44 ERA-ball.

Last season’s AL Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello, has a 4.23 ERA and not-much-better 3.94 FIP. Drew Pomeranz has a 5.29 ERA. Steven Wright had an 8.25 mark before being lost for the season to knee surgery. Brian Johnson was not good in a spot start; Hector Velazquez was worse; Kyle Kendrick, in two starts, was worse than either of them. Even with a bullpen that’s been mostly good, the starting pitching has been anything but.

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello stands near the mound as Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, May 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello stands near the mound as Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, May 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Red Sox need David Price back. It’s hard to know when that will happen and harder still to know if, when he does return, he’ll be anything close to his old self. At this point, even last year’s version of Price — the worst version we’ve seen in years — would be a welcomed improvement.

The once-potent offense isn’t exactly scaring anyone either. Boston ranked 16th in baseball and eighth in the American League in runs entering Friday’s games. While they’re fourth in baseball in batting average, they rank just 18th in slugging and are second-to-last in home runs.

Jackie Bradley Jr., while still playing his excellent defense, is hitting .205. Xander Bogaerts has been excellent, but that zero in the home run column is slightly worrisome. Third base as a whole has been an absolute disaster, both before and since Pablo Sandoval hit the DL (again).

Many of these problems are serious ones. The rotation is not good, and there’s no guarantee if or when Price will fix that. Third base has been a black hole, and there’s no guarantee if or when Sandoval or Brock Holt will fix that. Without David Ortiz, the team is suddenly devoid of any real power, at least through the season’s first two months. None of these will be easy problems to solve. Even the seemingly-less-serious issues — you have to figure both Porcello and Bradley turn things around at least to some degree — become more problematic the deeper into the season we get.

You don’t want to push the panic button on May 19, especially when you’re four games back and in a league without any truly great teams save for perhaps the Astros, but it goes beyond record for Boston. The issues are real, they don’t come with easy fixes, and they can put a team in a bad hole, quickly, if left unaddressed.

It’s a fine line between a bad start and a bad season, and if the Red Sox don’t act soon, they’re going to end up crossing it.

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