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.