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The Boston Globe

Sports

ON BASEBALL

Red Sox are stuck in an identity crisis

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts walks off the field as the Rays celebrate behind him. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

MIKE CARLSON/Getty Images

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts walks off the field as the Rays celebrate behind him.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — We do not recognize this team anymore.

Did they put the 2013 Red Sox in witness protection? Is the 2014 team playing under a new identity? Have the 2012 Red Sox invaded their bodies?

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Seriously, who are these guys?

With Friday’s 1-0 walkoff loss to Tampa Bay, the Red Sox have scored 16 runs during this eight-game losing streak. The Rays have been worse than the Red Sox, but at least they’ve got an excuse — three starting pitchers out of action, along with heart-and-soul player Ben Zobrist.

The 20-27 Red Sox have been dreadful, pathetic . . . any derogatory adjective you want. They deserve it.

David Ortiz even said, “We stink.”

There are long faces in the Red Sox clubhouse. There’s a lot of silence. You never saw that a year ago. The music would be blaring and the smiles were from ear to ear. There was laughter and jocularity everywhere.

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It is different now because, well, it is different.

There are new players who replaced players who made the 2013 team special. It reminds me of some of the Patriots championship teams, when the Ty Laws and Lawyer Milloys and Rodney Harrisons and Tedy Bruschis and Troy Browns and Mike Vrabels were replaced by talented younger players, but ones lacking certain traits that allowed them to win championships.

You have the same will to win, the same work ethic, the same everything, really, but when it’s time to execute the most critical plays, when it’s time to drive in a big run, it just doesn’t happen.

And don’t buy into the theory that the 2013 team got lucky. Sure, to some degree. The Red Sox made plays when they counted most in 2013. Now they make very few.

Any team that’s lost eight in a row needs a spark. John Lackey tried to provide it with a very good outing, only Chris Archer struck out 11 in six innings for the Rays.

So where does the spark come from?

Does it come from Ortiz?

Does it come from Dustin Pedroia?

Does it come from John Farrell?

Does it come from a player doing something extraordinary to win a game, like they did so often last season? How many big hits came from Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Stephen Drew?

Lots.

Now it’s virtually nobody.

For all the chatter about the Red Sox’ great farm system, they have no one that could help the lineup right now. Mookie Betts is playing center field in Double A Portland. Right now, there are no plans to have him go up to Pawtucket. Maybe the Red Sox will rethink that.

Jackie Bradley Jr. had an infield hit last night, but he’s batting .204. Grady Sizemore is at .221. Shane Victorino is injured again with a strained hamstring. Xander Bogaerts struck out three times. Mike Napoli struck out twice and left five men on base.

And the frustrating at-bats continued.

Two on, two outs in the top of the first, Napoli took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch from Archer.

Top of the fifth, Brock Holt led off with a double to right. Stranded at second.

A.J. Pierzynski had a leadoff single in the ninth, but was erased when Victorino bunted too strong to third baseman Evan Longoria, who cut down the lead runner. Some would say Farrell dropped the ball by not pinch-running the speedy Jonathan Herrera. Would he have beaten Longoria’s throw? Would Longoria even have gone to second base? Those are plays the team made last season.

Archer and Lackey engaged in a nice pitchers’ duel. Archer extended himself to a career-high 120 pitches, Lackey had another quality start in which he received no support.

Lackey is as baffled as everyone as to why a team that never lost more than three games in a row in 2013, was suddenly playing like the 2012 Red Sox. Don’t forget that team had a lot of Triple A players to end the season. That team losing eight straight was almost understandable.

In this case, the Red Sox have major league players on the field. While Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront are on the disabled list, the rest of the team is mostly healthy. There really are no excuses.

How has something so right gone so wrong?

Lackey talked about playing the “best” team (Detroit) and the hottest team (Toronto) at Fenway last week. But that never mattered last season. Whomever they played, the Red Sox just knew they were going to win the series.

The mind-set has changed. The confidence has gone.

It may take a dramatic event, a dramatic personnel move to get it going. But first, why not start with a simple win.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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