ANAHEIM -- So here we are again. September. Or nearly so. Put it this way: after the Red Sox play the opener of their weekend series with the Oakland A's Friday night, the waiver deadline will have passed and the calendar will have turned.
September. Ring any bells?
Exactly a year ago today, the Red Sox were almost 30 games over .500 and were in first place in the American League by a game and a half. The playoffs seemed a certainty; the prevailing question seemed to be whether the Sox would win the division or again have to settle for the wild card.
Then, the team went into a 7-20 dip, a descent that didn't end until the final inning of the final game. Even then, a ninth-inning loss to Baltimore didn't eliminate the Sox from the playoffs. But minutes later, a near-miraculous comeback by the Tampa Bay Rays against the New York Yankees did.
It was the worst collapse in baseball history. The Red Sox had gone from 9 12 games in front of the wild card chase to out of the post-season altogether.
And that was just the half of it. Terry Francona was effectively fired, Theo Epstein left town and the club's name was further soiled when it was revealed that the team's underperforming starting pitchers passed time during games treating the clubhouse like some teenagers' basement, complete with beer, chicken and video games.
A year later, the Sox barely resemble the franchise they appeared to be as August turned into September. The Sox are on their second manager since then, their third pitching coach and who knows how many players.
And yet, in some respects, they don't seem to have moved much at all.
This year, like last, will end without hope of a playoff appearance, making it three years since they last played in the post-season and four years since they actually won a post-season game.
This year, like last, the pitching has too often flat-lined, leading to too many games like Thursday night when the Sox trailed 2-0 three batters into the Los Angeles Angels' first inning. It happened last September when the rotation came unglued and presented opponents with early-inning leads on an almost nightly basis.
By other measures, things are worse. While last September's unraveling was mystifying at the time -- how does a team go from having the best record in baseball to being regularly embarrassed by good teams and bad in the span of a month? -- this upcoming September could be just as bad.
Night to night, the Sox are outclassed on the field. The lineup features exactly four regulars that the Sox envisioned back at the start of the season: Mike Aviles, Dustin Pedroia, Cody Ross and Jacoby Ellsbury.
(Jarrod Saltalamacchia might qualify as a fifth as he still plays most games, but some are as DH while the Red Sox evaluate Ryan Lavarnway's potential to replace him behind the plate next spring).
The rest of the Sox players are either role players given starting spots out of necessity (Scott Podsednik, Pedro Ciriaco) or recent acquisitions filling a lineup hole (James Loney).
As such, the Sox can't be considered favorites in many series. The nine-game West Coast road trip is off to an 0-3 start and the Sox still must play wild-card leading Oakland and a resurgent Seattle club which currently features a better record than the Sox themselves.
A winless trip hardly seems impossible, given how poorly the Red Sox are playing and how much better the upcoming pitching seems to be.
On the final day of August, the Sox sport a ghastly 9-19 record for the month, almost as poor as last September's historic 7-20.
Last year, the Sox saved their nightmarish play for the final month and crushing as it was, the skid was only the final month.
This year? It's as if the Red Sox are getting a running head start into the September abyss, entering the month with exactly the wrong kind of momentum.
Unless the Sox play 22-8 over their next 30 games, they will not finish with a winning record. In other words, it's virtually guaranteed they will finish under .500 for the first time since 2001.
There's no promise that Bobby Valentine will return for a second season, and regardless of what side you come down on regarding the manager's future, the uncertainty of the situation is troubling.
In other words: there's at least the possibility that the Sox at the end of this season could be, in its own way, finish every bit as disappointing as the last. And who thought that was possible a year ago today.