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Troubling signs pushing Red Sox into a corner

Dustin Pedroia  throws to first as the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler slides in in the first inning Sunday night. Mark L. Baer/USA Today

Mark L. Baer/USA Today

Dustin Pedroia throws to first as the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler slides in in the first inning Sunday night.

Bob Lobel is now a co-PA announcer for the Red Sox, but back when he was the sports anchor at WBZ-TV, he used to bring out that big red panic button in moments like these.

Time to push it?

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Probably not. But there’s angst beginning to build after the Sox lost their fourth straight game. It’s the first time they have done that since the end of the 2012 season.

The salvation is the mediocrity of the division. But if you’re the Red Sox, the concerning aspect of this is 1) they’re not taking advantage of their good health while the Yankees and Rays are banged up, and 2) they’re playing poorly at home.

Time for a shake-up? A big deal? Those issues will be contemplated during Monday’s off day.

Trades are tough at this time of the season because teams are focusing on the amateur draft. The Red Sox have their major league scouts out everywhere and, with Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list with a fractured right index finger (and struggling), names like Danny Valencia, Mike Moustakas, and Chase Headley start to surface. Yet it’s probably too early to make that type of a deal.

The Red Sox dropped to 10-14 at home after suffering a 6-2 loss against the Tigers on Sunday night. But here’s where they’re wasting an opportunity — the Red Sox are still one of only four teams who have employed the five starters they began the season with, along with the Brewers, Padres, and Angels. The Padres just put Andrew Cashner on the disabled list, so they’re about to drop out.

This should be a positive.

And yet the Red Sox have not been able to take advantage because their hitting with runners in scoring position and with two outs has been so poor.

Besides Middlebrooks, Shane Victorino has spent time on the DL, appearing in only 17 games. That’s been a downer for the Sox after losing three key players from last season’s lineup — Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

But for the most part, they have been the healthiest team in the division.

The other teams in the American League East have endured a lot.

Yankees starter Ivan Nova is done for the season after Tommy John surgery. They lost Michael Pineda, who had missed two seasons with labrum surgery to his right shoulder. Pineda is back throwing again after a right shoulder muscle strain kept him out more than a month. Also on the DL are CC Sabathia (fluid in the knee) and reliever Shawn Kelley (back). The Yankees recently lost slugger Carlos Beltran to bone spurs in his elbow and backup catcher Francisco Cervelli has a strained right hamstring and is on the 60-day disabled list. The Yankees still have had a winning record, 23-20.

The Rays’ starting rotation has been decimated. Alex Cobb suffered a left oblique strain earlier this season and has worked his way back to a rehab assignment. Jeremy Hellickson is due back in late June after right elbow surgery. Matt Moore is gone for the season after Tommy John surgery. And now Ben Zobrist, the heart and soul of the team, is on the DL with a dislocated left thumb. The result has been a tough 19-26 start, but understandable considering the loss of talent.

The Blue Jays have seen infielder Maicer Izturis, starter Brandon Morrow, center fielder Colby Rasmus, and reliever Sergio Santos all go on the DL. They also have hung in there, and currently have a 23-22 record.

The Orioles, like the Red Sox, haven’t had a ton of injuries, but third baseman Manny Machado missed the first month and catcher Matt Wieters is on the DL nursing a strained right elbow. Nolan Reimold, who was expected to man left field, is out indefinitely after back surgery. The Orioles have also managed to stay afloat with a 22-20 record.

With all of the personnel interruptions in the division, the Red Sox sit three games out of first place. Tampa Bay is only five games out.

The Sox simply haven’t been able to take full advantage of these extensive injuries.

They have suffered more from their inability to fully replace the players they lost. Jackie Bradley Jr. has not been a strong replacement for Ellsbury, even though Ellsbury is currently slumping in New York.

Xander Bogaerts, who had two hits and an RBI on Sunday night, has adequately replaced Drew, but not defensively which was the bread and butter of Boston’s championship drive a year ago.

The problems Bradley, Bogaerts, and Middlebrooks have had with runners on base has led to situations in which the Sox are losing close games that they might have won a year ago. The Red Sox are 5-10 in one-run games because they can’t get a key hit to save their lives. And that’s mostly the inability of the replacements to get the job done.

The Sox aren’t alone in not being able to excel at home.

It’s sort of an AL East thing. The Orioles are 9-10 at Camden Yards, the Yankees 11-11 at Yankee Stadium, the Jays are 10-11 at Rogers Centre, and the Rays are 8-12 at Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox have scored only 96 runs at home and have allowed 114. That negative differential hasn’t happened too often with a Red Sox team in a ballpark that’s supposed to be tailored for their personnel.

The Red Sox have been getting behind early at Fenway in some games. That was never a death sentence, but lately they have not had that magic to come back and win games as they did last season.

Entering Sunday night, they were hitting .253 with a .724 OPS at Fenway through 23 games. Last season they hit .285 with a .819 OPS at Fenway.

The best that can be said for the Red Sox at this point is they should be grateful they’re not 10 games behind given how they’ve played. But if they’re not excelling now that they’re healthy, how will they be once they start getting injured?

Last season they were first in hitting with runners in scoring position at .278. This year .240. Screaming even louder is runners in scoring position and two outs. Last year, .249. This year, .230.

The year-after blues have hit them early and often.

They will prove their mettle if they can reverse these very troubling trends.

Maybe Lobel’s panic button is too much too soon, but it’s obvious this team needs a little energy.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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