It's time to explore exactly what this Red Sox team is

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

The 2021 Red Sox have left their fans in a glass case of emotions.

Three straight losses. Nine straight wins. Since then? There have been some momentous wins, such as the triumph over Jacob deGrom in New York. But there have also been some daggers, perhaps the worst of the bunch coming Sunday when Brock Holt completed the Rangers' come-from-behind win against the Sox' bullpen.

All in all, the Red Sox are now 8-9 since that nine-gamer and are now bunched in with the rest of the supremely-flawed participants in the American League East.

What does it all mean? Probably that this isn't going to be all sunshine and rainbows as it once appeared to be the case for Alex Cora's crew.

So, as we sit there with the Red Sox sitting at 17-12 -- 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Toronto and 3 1/2 over last-place Baltimore -- it would seem to be a good opportunity to take stock of what we're dealing with ...

- The starters: The best news of the bunch for the Red Sox to date is undoubtedly how their starting pitching has come out of the first 29 games.

Garrett Richards made a strong statement when it came to convincing folks that game in New York wasn't a fluke, giving up just one run over five innings while striking out seven Rangers. It's easy to buy into the notion that the adjustments made by the righty will actually allow for the well-publicized upside to be an actual reality going forward.

Nick Pivetta has pretty much only been good since putting on a Red Sox uniform, and Martin Perez reclaimed some positive vibes after his last start. Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi? For the most part, they have both given off the much-needed vibes of top-of-the-rotation participants.

The Red Sox have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, but the mediocrity can't be pinned on the starters. That group has a 3.12 ERA during the stretch, while, perhaps most importantly, striking out 52 and walking only eight.

- The relievers: This is probably not the best time to analyze what the Red Sox have here considering the mess that the bullpen delivered over the weekend. Matt Andriese. Garrett Whitlock. Matt Barnes. They all had their issues. But to suggest any of the bunch isn't far more part of the solution than part of any problem doesn't seem realistic.

Now, the results from perceived high-leverage guys Adam Ottavino and Hirokazu Sawamura, that's another matter. It appeared as though Ottavino had put his inconsistency in the past until Sunday afternoon's melt-down, resurfacing doubts if this is truly an eighth-inning answer. And after a strong start from Sawamura, he has now allowed at runs in each of his last two appearances (and 4 of his last 6), and at least one hit in each of his last six. Both of these pitchers have to show better consistency in order for Cora's plan to work.

Now, the good news: Darwinzon Hernandez. The lefty, who couldn't throw strikes or find swings and misses throughout spring training and most of the first couple of weeks, has developed into a legitimate weapon of late. After his rough outing against Seattle at Fenway Park, the lefty has gone on to strikeout eight hitters in his last three innings, allowing just a pair of hits and not a single walk.

Also ... Has anyone noticed it has been 10 days since Phillips Valdez last pitched?

- The lineup: This is pretty simple. The foundational guys -- Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers -- are all doing their thing. The rest? Not so much.

The Red Sox stand as the only team in Major League Baseball with four qualified hitters possessing an OPS of .850 or better. That has saved them, because the other part of the lineup puzzle is still searching for pieces that fit.

The four players who routinely make up the bottom third of the batting order -- Marwin Gonzalez, Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero -- are hitting a combined .188 with 92 strikeouts in 271 at-bats.

This is a team that has the fourth-worst OPS in MLB out of the No. 9 spot, which, of course, means that you have a myriad of pitcher-hitting National League clubs doing better at the spot. The Sox' No. 7 position? The absolute worst collective OPS in baseball.

So, where do they go from here?

Gonzalez is going to continue to be leaned on because of his versatility, intangibles and palatable on-base percentage (.315). Renfroe's defense and propensity to pop one out will leave him as the right field options when left-handers on the mound. And the team was more than prepared to ride the Dalbec wave at least through the first few months of the season. Cordero is another matter.

The player that we have seen since mid-April is simply not a major league hitter. Since the end of the Red Sox nine-game win streak, Cordero is 1-for-32 with 15 strikeouts and still is looking for his first barreled ball. (As a quick aside, this trade has a long way to go, but, boy, Andrew Bentinendi -- he of the six-game hitting streak -- would look good in this lineup right now.)

As far as solutions, Danny Santana would seem a logical fit, but he is just starting his minor-league rehab in Greenville Tuesday and would seem to be at least a week away. Michael Chavis hits from the right side and would be somewhat of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to playing outfield. And Jarren Duran -- the fans' preference to get the next shot -- still hasn't played an inning in Triple-A.

It's a start the Red Sox will absolutely take. But, make no mistake about it, there is a lot of work to be done. And doesn't seem somewhat ironic that the player who most recently delivered the reminder was Brock Holt.

The 2018 season ... the gift that keeps on giving.