Two weeks ago, the question seemed absurd. But we have to ask it now.

Are the Red Sox good enough to hang with the Yankees and Rays in the American League East?

Boston is 4-9 after dropping five in a row, and I can only imagine what the patrons at the Cask'n Flagon have to say about this.

The Rays completed a four-game sweep of the Red Sox early this afternoon with a lopsided win at Fenway Park. That defeat is certain to cause panic among Red Sox Nation for two reasons:

1) This is Marathon Monday. Patriots Day. A bona fide holiday in Boston. People don't work. Kids don't go to school. And there is drinking. A lot of drinking. The kind you might find around a college football stadium on fall Saturdays. The ballgame starts at 11 a.m. in order to coincide with the race. This is a Big Deal.

With all of that effort (and booze) spent in the name of tradition, the people of New England were rewarded with this: Rays 8, Red Sox 2.

And ...

2) Simply put, no Red Sox fan expected to see a five-game losing streak in April.

Among the teams that have more wins than Boston right now: Cleveland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Yes, Washington!

Seriously, what is going on here?

- The rotation has been much worse than expected.

Count me among those who believed the Red Sox rotation would carry this team to a World Series title.

Well, after John Lackey's brief, bad outing on Monday, the Boston rotation is 3-5 with a league-worst 5.18 ERA.

There's no way for a team to overcome that sort of underperformance -- particularly when facing American League East lineups.

And Lackey had actually been Boston's best starter before Sunday. Jon Lester (8.44) and Tim Wakefield (5.11) have ugly ERAs and zero wins apiece.

Not to worry, though. Daisuke Matsuzaka should be back soon.

- The Glove-First Run Prevention Plan hasn't worked.

The Red Sox have allowed nine unearned runs, tying them with Baltimore and Detroit for most in the American League entering Monday.

This was supposed to be a team that played near-flawless defense, thanks in large part to the additions of Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron.

Well ...

Beltre: one error at third base.

Scutaro: three errors at shortstop.

Cameron: one error in center field.

And Victor Martinez has been a liability behind the plate, throwing out only one of 15 potential base-stealers.

In fairness, health woes for Cameron (kidney stones) and Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) resulted in a starting outfield that included Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall on Monday. But the Red Sox need to be better in the field than they have been.

It's perplexing that the Red Sox haven't simply placed Ellsbury on the disabled list. He hasn't played in the team's past seven games, and Josh Reddick is a capable replacement at Triple-A.

- The offense is struggling -- and it's not only about Big Papi.

I know batting averages don't tell the whole story, but look at these numbers:

Martinez: .212.

Kevin Youkilis: .217.

J.D. Drew: .146.

And, of course, Ortiz: .158.

With four of their top seven hitters performing well below career norms, it's no surprise that the Red Sox have struggled to score runs.

Ortiz is the most obvious candidate to be bounced from the everyday lineup, even though he did have two doubles during the weekend series.

As colleague Ken Rosenthal pointed out in Saturday's MLB on FOX Full Count video, Mike Lowell is a particularly appealing alternative now, given the large number of home games on Boston's upcoming schedule. (Lowell has always hit well at Fenway.)

One way or the other, it's clear that the Red Sox need to change soon. If the performance doesn't, the personnel will. You could be hearing a lot about Adrian Gonzalez between now and July 31.

Boston optimists will point out that the Yankees stumbled early last year before winning the World Series. That's true. But they also added Alex Rodriguez to their lineup in early May.

The Red Sox can't say the same thing now. And even if they trade for Gonzalez, how exactly is the lineup going to look? Would Youkilis and Gonzalez, both of whom have won Gold Gloves at first base, split time between playing in the field and serving as the DH?

And even if both are amenable, then what becomes of Martinez behind the plate? If the Rays continue stealing at will, this might not be their last series sweep of the Sox.

So many issues. So early in the season. So surprising. But maybe we should have seen this coming.