Bradford: One player tackles Red Sox' identity crisis

Rob Bradford
August 07, 2017 - 10:49 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

It's been sort of bizarre. Rick Porcello can see that.

The Red Sox are in first place by three games. They are 14 games over .500. And, to top it off, John Farrell's club is heading to Tropicana Field riding a six-game winning streak.

Yet, at this moment, with 50 games to play, this is a team that has yet to identify itself.

The Red Sox have gotten well above-average pitching, as evident by their American League-best 3.68 team ERA. But ask anybody and they will most likely identify just two hurlers -- Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel -- who will get the fans' unanimous vote of confidence every time they step on the mound.

Hitting? OPS-wise, this is the 17th-best team in the majors. In fact, the Sox don't have one hitter in the big league's top 65 (with No. 66 being newcomer Eduardo Nunez). 

And sure, they are aggressive on the basepaths. But that has led to just as much risk as reward.

So, what should we make of this conundrum?

Porcello took a stab at the question.

"Our identity is being developed every time we take the field. It's not always something you can put a catch-phrase on or say, 'This is them.' But at the end of the day, all our identity needs to be is to find a way to [expletive] win," he explained. "That's it. It doesn't have to be five or six guys in the lineup hitting 30-plus homers. It doesn't have to be three starting pitchers with three-and-a-half ERAs. It doesn't have to be three or four relievers down there with a 1.7 [ERA]. It's got to be guys that know how to go out there, know how to play the game and know how to pitch themselves up when they're not going well and find ways to bounce back, whether it's that night or winning that game, or taking a couple of losses, rebound and overcome the ebbs and flows of the season. There's nothing wrong with that being your identify. Everybody wants to see the powerhouse dynasty. That's all well and good. We all want to see that. Sometimes you've just got to roll with what's going on and make the best of whatever situation you're in. We've got some guys banged up and we have to keep on pushing. Nobody is going to wait around for us. We have to be scrappy, and I think that might be, for lack of a better term, what we've been to this point."

Porcello does have somewhat of a unique perspective considering where he came from. In the pitcher's final four seasons with Detroit, the Tigers won the American League Central every single season. They were defined by superb starting pitching and a powerful (albeit somewhat unathletic) batting order built around Miguel Cabrera. That was it. Those teams knew why they were winning.

This year's Red Sox? Depends on the day.

"We haven't fired on all cylinders collectively, offense and pitching together, and we're sifting atop a really, really tough division. That's something that I don't really remember happening in Detroit," Porcello said. "I remember when we would take over first-place if we weren't there, we were firing on all cylinders and playing our best baseball. That hasn't happened here and we're still finding ways to win games. Guys are coming up in spots. We've had some clutch hits as of late. Just finding different ways. There hasn't really been a rhyme or reason or consistency to any of it. We've managed to win some games and managed to be in the position we are in to this point."

He added, "I think with the exception of maybe a couple of guys in this clubhouse, if you went around and asked about their personal seasons and how they felt, they would say, 'I can definitely play better. I can definitely put up better numbers.' But at the end of the day we all feel really, really good about being three games up, and we all feel really good about the baseball we have in front of us and the potential to go off on a run. We just have to keep grinding it out. And it doesn't happen and it's scrappy baseball all the way through, and we have to find a way to win the division that way, then that's what it is. That's the situation you're put in and that's what you have to overcome."

Perhaps the Red Sox are creeping toward some sense of certainty during their recent stretch of wins.

They have shown a propensity to outlast their opponents. There have been just enough of an uptick of home runs to suggest this could be a viable offense. And then there is the pitching.

If the Red Sox are going to define one part of their existence that is a notch above, it's probably going to be this collection of starters. And considering the offensive roadblocks in Houston, New York and Tampa Bay that are waiting, that might not be such a bad foundation to build on.

"As far as the talent level and the what the pitching staffs are respectively capable of doing, this pitching staff is just as good as any staff I've ever been on. Top to bottom," Porcello said. "The dominance Sale has had over the course of the year. The year Drew [Pomeranz] is putting together and how consistent he's been. Every time he takes the ball we're pretty confident we're going to win. Same thing with Eddie [Rodriguez]. Myself, at times I haven't had the best year but I feel fully confident every time I take the ball. And David [Price], when he's healthy, the way he was throwing the ball … All the talent is there. We're more than capable doing the things the pitching staff in Detroit did and hopefully more, because at the end of the day we didn't win a World Series in Detroit and that's our goal. Here I think when you look at our staff and really our team as a whole, I don't think, with the exception of Chris and Drew, we have pitched our best baseball."

Maybe Porcello is right. Perhaps the Red Sox' inability to lock in on one, go-to way of winning is a plus. Maybe the idea that the best of their best is being saved for the final two months.

As Porcello points out, "It hasn't really been pretty, but it's been good enough up to this point."

Doesn't that sort of sum it up? It might not be good enough for the bumper stickers, but, for now, it's good enough for first-place. It's been an identity crisis these Red Sox can live with ... for now.

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