An old joke among fans who get the business goes, “What’s red, white, and blue (fill in the appropriate team colors) and playing golf?” In less than a month, in the various watering holes of New York, the answer, of course, will be: the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately for Beantown fans, this year is no joke.

As of this writing, the Red Sox are mired in a 3-12 slump, 7.5 games behind the hated Yankees in the AL East and six full games behind the White Sox and Twins in the race. for the wildcard. This afternoon they take on the A’s who are 23-8 in their last 31 and see Barry Zito, who is pitching for a contract and has won eight of his last ten starts. They do so without the services of their lineup’s motor home, David Ortiz (cardio), Manny Ramirez (knee) and Willy Mo Pena (wrist), all back in Boston. All-Star wide receiver and team captain Jason Varitek has been out for three weeks recovering from knee surgery.

Let’s stack up a little, okay? In the last seven games, the Red Sox are hitting an anemic .176 while managing only six safeties against Kirk Saarloos and helping last night. Opposing lineups are hitting Boston by shooting .301 and Boston has been outscored 32-14 during the span. The Red Sox are 8-20 in the month of August.

When all is said and done, most will remember the Boston Massacre, where in a four-day stretch from August 18-21, the Yankees swept the BoSox five straight games by a total score of 51-26. The Red Sox were only a half game behind the Bronx Bombers at the start of that series.

In my opinion, the Red Sox’s problems began much earlier. Earlier in the summer, when the Yankees were reeling from injuries and basically opening an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby, the biggest lead the Red Sox could build was four games on July 4. Since that time, the Yankees have gone 31-17 and won 11 games in the standings.

Another blunder may have been wunderkind GM Theo Epstein’s decision to stick to his guns before the trade deadline. Sure they picked up Javy Lopez, but the former Braves’ best days are behind them, particularly on the defensive end, where he rarely stops balls in the dirt and opposing baserunners run at will.

Epstein also couldn’t pick a useful starter, opting instead for youngsters John Lester (7-2, 4.76, .294) and Kyle Snyder (3-3, 6.91, .339). The bullpen (despite a good year from rookie Jason Papelbon) has been ineffective with a 4.40 overall ERA and 17 blown saves. The former David Wells has been Boston’s best starter of late.

The Red Sox have 16 home games in September, but the horse is already out of the stable.

What is red, white and blue and playing golf?

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