Who, exactly, are the 2017 Boston Red Sox?

The baseball season is nearing the quarter pole and we still have no idea. Next weekend in Oakland the Sox will play their 40th game of the season, which means 25 percent of the season will be done. In that time we’ve seen glimpses of a team with the pitching and hitting to make a run at another AL East title.

We’ve also seen a team that can go through extended stretches of anemic hitting, and a defense that has been as bad as any in the game.

Sunday’s 11-2 loss to Tampa Bay was a stark reminder that this team is not yet ready for prime time.

Still, the Red Sox have managed to keep their head above water, entering Tuesday’s two-game series at St. Louis with a 19-18 record. They haven’t been below .500 this season.

They’ve also never been more than four games above .500, which is disappointing for a team expected to contend for the pennant. They’ve been treading water through the first quarter of the season, hoping to put together a run to close the gap between the top of the division and themselves.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Sox with three-quarters of the season left:

n The back end of the rotation needs to improve. The Sox have been very good in games started by Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez. They’ve been brutal when anyone else starts. That lopsidedness should improve now that David Price is closer to a return. Price will start in Buffalo for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday and could return before Memorial Day weekend. His return couldn’t come at a better time, with Steven Wright out for the year after knee surgery and Drew Pomeranz coming out of Sunday’s game with left triceps tightness.

n The bullpen has been good, but overused. Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, two relievers acquired by Dave Dombrowski to take over the eighth inning, haven’t thrown a pitch for the Red Sox yet. Manager John Farrell has had to rely heavily on Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly and Robby Scott to get to the incomparable Craig Kimbrel. The bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, but it’s going to be in trouble eventually if those four pitchers are asked to come into 80 or more games each. The seven-run ninth inning Sunday reminded us that you can’t depend on the same few relievers all season.

n Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball. The five-time All Star has the lowest ERA in major league history of any pitcher with at least 300 innings in relief. It has been a sustained run of success of more than six years, but Kimbrel is now at his absolute best. He has made eight straight scoreless appearances, and has struck out 55.9 percent of the batters. In his last 13 games, only three batters have reached base. As long as the bridge to Kimbrel stays intact, the back end of the bullpen is sound.

n The top of the lineup is in good hands. Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi have fit in nicely as the top four batters on Farrell’s lineup card each game. There’s no reason to move this group around.

n Hanley Ramirez is a designated hitter. Ramirez made one start at first base, and came out of Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee with a right trap muscle spasm. He returned Sunday. Farrell wanted Ramirez to spend time at first throughout the season, giving Mitch Moreland a rest and letting Chris Young cycle through as DH. It seems pretty clear now that Hanley should be the DH and should leave his glove at home.

n The catchers should rotate. Farrell takes his share of criticism in Boston, so it’s only fair to give him credit where it’s due. Farrell has done a masterful job getting the most out of Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez. Each has hit well above his career average, and each continues to be amongst the best defensive catchers in the game. There is no reason to name one the “primary” or “starting” catcher. Keep the competition going, and get the most out of each.

The Sox are in the race. You can’t win a pennant in the first two months of the season, but you can lose one. The Sox have not dug themselves a hole that could impact their playoff hopes. They haven’t been their best on a consistent basis, but they’ve stayed within sight of the leaders. With better defense, and help from the back end of the rotation, the Sox should make it another meaningful summer of baseball.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.