BOSTON — They pound opposing pitchers for 36 hits the previous three games, scoring 24 runs.

On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox managed five singles and one run.

“We’ve searched high and low for a little bit more consistency,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said.

It is a concern.

No, you can’t win ’em all, and mama said there would be days like Sunday’s 4-1 loss. But how can the Red Sox look so dominant and then fall so flat?

Farrell and his players were quick to credit Rays starter Alex Cobb.

“Just mixing up his pitches and keeping us off balance,” outfielder Mookie Betts said.

Cobb is 8-9 with a solid 3.69 ERA against the rest of the league. He’s 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA against Boston.

The Red Sox also were 1 for 12 Sunday against the Rays bullpen.

Shut down by a good starting pitcher, and lifeless against four relievers. If Boston can’t do better than that, is there much hope for Boston going far in the playoffs?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good Red Sox team. They can be fun to watch.

But do not fall in love with them or, at least, don’t fall in love with their chances, because you’re headed for heartbreak.

Boston (81-62) is a near shoo-in for the playoffs and is in good position to win the American League East, although its lead is now down to 31/2 games over the Yankees (only three games in the loss column).

As always, we need to bring up 2011. That year, after 143 games, the Red Sox were 21/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees, and 61/2 ahead of the Rays for the wild-card spot (back when there was only one wild-card team in each league). Boston faded, and the Rays passed the Sox on the final day.

This year, the other wild-card contenders – starting with the Twins (74-69) and Angels (73-70) – are far enough behind that the Red Sox should be safe, barring a total collapse.

The Red Sox, as the players keep reminding us, control their destiny.

“We’re right where we want to be, going into this home stretch,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said.

But is there any concern that a team can look explosive for days and flat the next.

“No,” Moreland said, almost laughing. “I think it’s called baseball.”

Moreland is new to the Red Sox this year. He doesn’t understand our New England angst.

“We’ve played well all season,” Moreland said. “I don’t think we’re going to hang our hats on one game in a series when we come out winning the series.

“We’re in a great spot. Today’s was one of those days.”

But Boston has had too many of those games for a team that hopes to contend.

Even with the blowout wins they’ve enjoyed, the Red Sox rank only seventh in the league in runs scored.

Boston has scored two runs or less in 36 games, including 10 shutouts. The Red Sox have won only three of those 36 games.

“It’s part of the game,” Betts said of the occasional offensive malaise. We do have to understand it is one game at a time.”

Players must have that turn-the-page mentality. What else can they say? They can’t snap their fingers and become a consistent run-scoring machine.

Rick Porcello is feeling the effects of the up-and-down offense. Porcello pitched better last year with a 3.15 ERA, but he also was backed with 7.6 runs a game, helping him finish with a 22-4 record.

His ERA is up to 4.64 this year, and his run support is down (4.3). Porcello’s record is 9-17 – the most losses by a Red Sox pitcher since 1965, when they had three pitchers with at least 17 losses (including Jim Lonborg at 9-17).

“It comes down to consistency,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “If (Porcello’s season) is defined by wins and losses, a lot of that is out of his control.

“There are a number of times, he’s pitched well enough to win. Some of those days, he’s come up empty.”

This is a team trying to avoid those empty times. Porcello, the reigning Cy Young winner, looks to be the No. 4 starter right now – behind Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and Doug Fister – and could go to No. 5 if Eduardo Rodriguez gets hot.

The bullpen has also hit some bumps. Boston’s first two relievers on Sunday, Brandon Workman and Robby Scott, gave up solo home runs, changing a one-run game to a 4-1 deficit.

Then again, 2-1 was insurmountable on Sunday.

It was just “one of those days” for the Red Sox.

Maybe Boston will mount a strong run through October.

But to beat teams in October, Boston must beat good pitching. That’s called baseball.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases