The official unofficial halfway point of the season is upon us, and we will be without Red Sox baseball for the next four days until they pick things back up in a big series against the Yankees starting on Friday. The pre-All-Star break run for the Red Sox was an interesting one, with plenty of ups and downs. There were more ups than downs, though, and behind some outstanding pitching and an inconsistent offense they finished the first half with a 50-39 record and find themselves up 3.5 games on the Yankees in the American League East. Things could have gone better, but all things considered it was a strong first half for this team. With that in mind, let’s look at some superlatives for the Red Sox over the first half.
In the actual MVP, voters rarely vote for starting pitchers and you have to do something truly incredible to get that award. Unless you’re Justin Verlander in 2011, who stole the award from Jacoby Ellsbury. No, I’m not still upset about that. I actually think it’s funny....
Anyway, not voting for pitchers out of principle is stupid and also this isn’t the league-wide MVP voting. The Red Sox have gotten some strong performances from position players like Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, but this award clearly belongs to Chris Sale. The lefty has some surpassed our enormous expectations for him coming into the year and has broken the curse for pitchers failing to meet expectations in their first year in a Red Sox uniform. While the pitching as a whole has been quite good on this team most of the year, there have certainly been some inconsistencies in the rotation. The only pitcher they’ve been able to count on every time he takes the mound is Sale, and that deserves recognition. Plus, strikeouts are cool as hell and he gets a bunch of them. Also, his slider makes me feel things.
Chris Sale/Craig Kimbrel
Obviously, this award also goes to Sale. He’s the favorite to win the Cy Young for the American League, so there’s no doubt he’d also win it for his team. However, it’s boring for him to take the first two awards so let’s use this space to talk about Craig Kimbrel, who wins the award for Best Pitcher In The World Where Chris Sale Does Not Exist.
Boston’s closer was mildly disappointing in his first season in a Red Sox uniform, though he was better than many fans gave him credit for. In 2017, he’s making sure no one makes the mistake of calling him a bust. Kimbrel has been in the conversation for best reliever in baseball this year and has easily been the best in the American League. He has an incredible 1.19 ERA, and depending on what your favorite advanced metric is he’s either suffered from bad luck or is pitching about how you’d expect. That is bananas. Kimbrel has been huge for the Red Sox and is a big reason they find themselves in first place at the All-Star break. If he can keep something close to this up in the second half, the Red Sox will make the postseason.
Best Defensive Player
The Red Sox have gotten strong defensive play from all over the diamond. After being named the best defensive player in the American League a year ago, Mookie Betts is once again showing he is one of the elite defensive outfielders in the game. Dustin Pedroia has been outstanding as always at second base. Deven Marrero has looked great at third base and he gets bonus points due to how bad the Red Sox looked at that position before his arrival.
Jackie Bradley soars above them all, though. We’ve always known that Bradley was a truly elite defensive player, and nothing he’s done really surprises us this season. Still, he’s yet to get recognition from the league for his glove. This could be his year, though. Kevin Kiermaier is likely his biggest competition for the Gold Glove, and he’s missing a big chunk of time for Tampa. At the very least, Bradley will win our fake award for best defensive player on the roster.
To be clear, this is the award for the most positive surprise. There have been some surprisingly bad players, but this is not for them. Finding the winner for this award was kind of tough, as no one has really soared above expectations. Tzu-Wei Lin has taken the team by storm, but he hasn’t played nearly long enough to really qualify here. Christian Vazquez was shockingly great with the bat early on, but he’s fallen off a cliff recently. A couple guys in the bullpen — Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Robby Scott come to mind — could have an argument too, but there’s been some inconsistencies with their seasons.
That leaves us with Mitch Moreland. Now, the Red Sox first baseman hasn’t been consistently great all year by any means, and has had some cold streaks of his own. However, he was a big part of this offense when they needed someone to step up early in the year, and he’s taken to an everyday role he was never supposed to fill. He’s currently miscast as a middle-of-the-order hitter, but he’s been a solid contributor to this team all year and it was never clear that would be the case when they signed him last winter.
Once again, there were a few different options for this one. Rick Porcello is coming off a Cy Young season but has been something between bad and a disaster for most of this season. David Price spent the start of the year on the shelf and has taken some time to get back on track. Sandy Leon got off to a brutal start, but he’s turned it around lately.
To me, Ramirez takes the cake as the most disappointing player on the roster. Some of this is because the Red Sox have been able to mask their pitchers’ disappointing years, but they needed Ramirez to pick up some of David Ortiz’ slack in the middle of the order. Due to bad luck, a hurt shoulder and just plain poor performance, he has been average-at-best at the plate while only being able to play in the DH spot. We’ve seen Ramirez turn it on in a big way for the second half before, and they’ll need that again if they want their offense jump started down the stretch.