Fresh off their worst April in 14 years, the Red Sox are back at Fenway Park hoping to get the 2010 season back on track. To say the least, it’s been a disappointing start. After being swept in Baltimore over the weekend, Boston returned home from the road three games under .500.

The Red Sox did manage a surprising 17-8 win over the Angels on Monday. Don’t expect that every night over the next few weeks.

Losing a series in Baltimore is about as bad as it gets. Coming into the weekend, the O’s had four wins. Now, they’ve got seven on the season. More than half of those wins are against Boston.

Put another way, the Orioles have a winning record against the Sox … and are 13 games under .500 against all others.

This was supposed to be a weekend getaway that would re-establish the Sox as an AL contender.

“If they don’t sweep this weekend it’s their own fault,” Hall of Famer Jim Palmer –now an Orioles broadcaster — said Friday before the series began. “The Orioles don’t usually win games; the other team loses them.”

The Red Sox have found plenty of ways to lose games this season. Some nights it’s the starting pitching, like Saturday when Daisuke Matsuzaka made his 2010 debut by giving up seven runs (six earned) in 42/3 innings.

When the starters have performed, the bullpen hasn’t been able to hold the lead. John Lackey went seven strong innings Friday night, but Daniel Bard allowed a tying home run in the eighth before Baltimore won it in the 10th.

And many nights, the offense hasn’t been there at all. Like Sunday’s 10-inning debacle that saw the Sox score just two runs.

This isn’t a case of the Sox needing a bat, or one more arm. This is a team that seems to spring leaks left and right. It has left Sox fans with a sinking feeling, even though we’re four weeks into the season.

It was an ugly way to start a month that could very well determine Boston’s legitimacy as a playoff contender. Including this series with the Angels, the Sox are in a stretch where they play seven of their next eight series against playoff-caliber teams.

Their games in Baltimore were more than a lost weekend, they were a lost opportunity. The Sox need to beef up their record against the lesser lights of the league if they hope to reach the playoffs in October.

Last season, the Sox won 95 games on the way back to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.

They didn’t do it based on their performance against the AL East contenders.

They did it because of a strong record against the rest of the league.

The Sox played .500 baseball against the top competitors in the division last season, splitting 18 games with both the Yanks and the Rays. They also went a combined 8-7 against the other two AL playoff teams.

That means they were 26-25 against the iron of the AL, but made it to the postseason because of their impressive 69-42 record against all others.

If the Sox hope to hang with the hard-charging Rays and Yankees this summer, they had best take care of business when they face the teams you don’t expect to make it to the playoffs.

The Orioles are certainly one of those teams … and the Sox certainly didn’t take care of business against them this weekend.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.