Much like the September sun, Boston's season is setting early in the west.
The Red Sox seek to avoid a seventh consecutive loss on a miserable road trip Labor Day afternoon when they visit a last-place Seattle Mariners club currently thriving by comparison.
A year after the 7-20 September collapse that left them one game out of a playoff spot, the Red Sox (62-73) appear to have checked out on 2012 a month sooner. Boston posted a 9-20 record in August to drop out of serious postseason contention, culminating in Friday's 20-2 shellacking in Oakland.
The Red Sox then opened the first days of meteorological Autumn in similar fashion, dropping the final two games of their series against the Athletics by a combined 13-3.
Boston, which was cumulatively outscored 16-0 in the first three innings of the three Oakland games, has dropped six straight for the first time this season after enduring three other five-game skids."We're really not doing anything well," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia , who for his part is batting .370 during a 13-game hitting streak. "Nobody's quitting. We're professionals, we're going to play as hard as we can. This isn't a trying league. You have to play well and perform well to win games, and we haven't done that."
One of the relative bright spots for Boston has been probable Monday starter Clay Buchholz (11-4, 4.50 ERA), who is 7-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 13 outings since the start of June. Even Buchholz, though, has struggled in his last two outings, giving up 11 runs, 18 hits - three homers - over 12 1-3 innings. The Red Sox lost both of those games to the Angels, though Buchholz didn't get the decision in Tuesday's 6-5 defeat.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two career starts against the Mariners, whom he hasn't faced since 2010.
While Seattle (65-70) is firmly ensconced in the AL West basement, it has shown far more life than the Red Sox in recent weeks by winning 12 of its last 18. The Mariners avoided a three-game sweep to Los Angeles with a 2-1 victory Sunday, thanks in part to Jesus Montero 's fourth homer off Angels ace Jered Weaver in nine career at-bats."I get lucky," Montero said.
Seattle starter Jason Vargas (13-9, 3.90) will seek better luck after a pair of rough road outings in which he gave up 12 runs over 8 2-3 innings. The left-hander surrendered six runs and eight hits - two homers - in 4 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 10-0 defeat at Minnesota.
Prior to his recent rough patch, Vargas had gone 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA during a run of 10 consecutive quality starts that included eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox on July 1, a contest Boston won 2-1 in 10 innings.
This holiday matinée marks the first stretch of three straight home day games for Seattle since three contests against the Red Sox on Sept. 4-6, 1999, during Safeco Field's inaugural season.
|Boston Red Sox|
|September 02, 2012||Jacoby Ellsbury||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|August 25, 2012||David Ortiz||15-Day DL||Aggravated right Achilles strain|
|August 25, 2012||Daniel Nava||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 24, 2012||Franklin Morales||15-Day DL||Left shoulder fatigue|
|August 20, 2012||Carl Crawford||Day-to-Day||Left elbow surgery|
|August 11, 2012||Will Middlebrooks||15-Day DL||Broken right wrist - out for season|
|August 31, 2012||Michael Saunders||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained groin|
|August 25, 2012||Michael Saunders||Day-to-Day||Sore groin|
|August 13, 2012||Mike Carp||Day-to-Day||Hip injury|
|August 13, 2012||Mike Carp||15-Day DL||Strained left groin muscle|
|August 06, 2012||Brendan Ryan||Day-to-Day||Left elbow contusion|
|July 18, 2012||Charlie Furbush||15-Day DL||Strained left triceps|
SEATTLE (AP) -- When Jason Vargas talks about being a complete pitcher, he's talking about staying strong for a complete season.
The Seattle lefty stayed on track to meet his goal of having a solid second half, pitching seven solid innings as the Mariners sent the sloppy Boston Red Sox to their season-worst seventh straight loss, 4-1 Monday.
"I feel like the progression I've made has gotten better. The last few years I've struggled after the All-Star break," Vargas said. "That I haven't had as many struggles is definitely a plus. I'm able to keep making adjustments. I've been able to keep myself together."
Over the past three seasons, Vargas is 7-18 with a 5.37 ERA in the season half. This year, he is 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA since the All-Star break.
"You look at how much progress he has made just in the time I've been here," second-year Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He was strong in his last five, six starts last year and he brought it into this year."
The Red Sox botched two key plays and fell to 0-7 on their road trip. They've been outscored 58-16 in that span.
"We made the miscues that gave them two runs and that's all she wrote," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said.
Vargas (14-9) allowed one run and six hits, walked no one and struck out five. He is the first Mariners pitcher other than Felix Hernandez to win at least 14 games since 2003.
Vargas, who leads the staff in wins, was coming off two sub-par outings in which he gave up a combined 11 runs and 15 hits in 8 2-3 innings.
Tom Wilhelmsen worked the ninth to pick up his 23rd save in 26 opportunities.
The Mariners have won 10 of their last 12 games at Safeco Field.
Clay Buchholz (11-5) took the loss. He went seven innings, giving up three earned runs, six hits while walking one and striking out eight.
Buchholz and the wobbly Boston defense conspired to undo the Red Sox in the Mariners' four-run fourth inning.
Buchholz got in trouble after Franklin Gutierrez beat out an infield single. He then walked Kyle Seager and, on back-to-back pitches, gave up RBI single by John Jaso and Justin Smoak to right that gave Seattle a 2-1 lead.
The Red Sox fell apart after that.
Eric Thames lifted a shallow fly ball to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Jaso tagged up, broke for home and then stopped. Ellsbury's throw, however, bounced away from catcher Ryan Lavarnway , and Jaso restarted and scored.
"I wish they had given me that error," Lavarnway said. "Jacoby is trying to get that guy out. He's doing exactly what he should have and I played it into an in-between hop. I need to go out and smother that ball - absolutely need to keep it in front of me."
Miguel Olivo singled and Carlos Peguero hit what looked like a double-play grounder to shortstop Jose Iglesias . The ball slipped in Iglesias' hand, missing the force at second, and he threw too late to first for an error that let Smoak score.
The Red Sox scored a two-out run in the first. Dustin Pedroia had a ground-rule double for the 1,000th hit in his sixth full season and Cody Ross singled.
NOTES: Notes: Pedroia has matched his season high with a 14-game hitting streak. He has had three hitting streaks this season of 13 games or more. ... Boston DH David Ortiz has played one game since July 18 because of his two stints on the disabled list for a strained Achilles, but general manager Ben Cherington expects the slugger back before the end of the season. "That's our hope," he said. ... OF Michael Saunders has missed eight on the past nine Mariners' games with a strained right hamstring. Manager Eric Wedge said he is close to returning.