By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Bobby Valentine’s brief tenure as manager of the Boston Red Sox was a dysfunctional mess from start to finish. Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox also started the year 4-8 in their first 12 games.

Alex Cora’s 2019 Boston Red Sox are currently 3-9 through 12 games.

That seems like a problem.

The difference, of course, is quite significant, in that Cora’s team is chock full of players who proved six months ago that they’re capable of combining to comprise the best team in baseball. Valentine’s team was coming off one of the greatest collapses in modern sports history the year prior.

So certainly, there’s more than enough reason to hold off on hitting the panic button through 12 games of this young season.

At the same time, the margin for error has shrunken significantly for this year’s club, and the turnaround is really going to have to start very quickly in order to stop the bleeding.

The Tampa Bay Rays may not pose a real threat as a wire-to-wire contender, but after a 9-1 win at Chicago on Wednesday, the first-place Rays are now 10-3 on the season. They’re 4.5 games up on the Orioles, who most certainly will be nowhere to be found at the top of the standings by May, but also 4.5 up on the Yankees, who have gotten off to a slow start of their own. The Red Sox, meanwhile, sit 6.5 games back. Considering the Red Sox’ largest gap while trailing in the division was a whopping two games for the entirety of last year, they’ve clearly got some work to do.

That work needs to begin Thursday night at Fenway, with the 4-8 Blue Jays in town to wrap up the brief two-game set. And it will really have to kick into high gear when the Orioles visit Boston for a four-game set beginning on Friday night and concluding Monday morning on Patriots’ Day. (Monday’s game is unlikely to take place, though, given the forecast of heavy rain.)

If a worst-case scenario does take place, and the Red Sox find themselves at, say, 5-11 on Monday morning, the season will not be lost. But they’ll remain stuck in the mud with the lower-class of the AL East, just in time for a five-game road trip that will take them to the Bronx for two and Tampa for three. After that, a 10-game homestand opens up with a four-game set against the first-place Tigers, followed by visits from the first-place Rays and then the A’s, who have already taken three of four from the Red Sox in this young season.

That path ahead clearly won’t be easy, which adds a certain level of significance to this week’s matchups against teams the Red Sox really should be beating. The Red Sox went 16-3 vs. Baltimore last year, and 15-4 vs. Toronto, their two highest win totals against any team. Those 31 wins accounted for roughly 29 percent of their franchise-record 108 wins. While 108 wins can be thrown out as a possibility this year (it would require a 105-45 record the rest of the way), it’s clear that beating up on bad teams will be instrumental for the Red Sox if they hope to repeat as division champs.

And when it’s come to winning the division, the Red Sox have not been able to pull it off when starting the way they have this season. In 2018, they started the year 10-2. In 2017 and 2016, they were a mediocre 7-5 and 6-6, respectively. They went 8-4 in 2013 and 7-5 in 2007. One could easily make the argument that difference between 6-6 and 3-9 is minute. One would be correct. A simple five-game winning streak, or a stretch of eight wins in 10 games, and the cliched ship has been righted. Simple enough.

Yet one would also have to admit that the aforementioned imaginary winning streak would surely have to begin quite soon, so as to not submarine the season.

For this year’s Red Sox, when it comes to rapid improvement, it’s going to have to be across the board. The starting pitching has been bad. The offense has been bad. The base running has been bad. The defense has been bad. Perhaps there were some things that were taken for granted for the defending champs heading into the year, or perhaps baseball is just a cruel, difficult sport to find sustained success. Whatever the reason may have been, nothing should provide a more blunt wake-up call than a 3-9 record — which has them tied for the second-worst record in all of Major League Baseball.

It’s still too early to fully apply the “urgency” label to frigid April games against the Blue Jays and Orioles. At the same time, if the Red Sox don’t return to form over the next several days, it’s not a stretch at all to imagine us looking back in late September at this weekend being a significant and costly missed opportunity.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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