Picking Boston Red Sox Award Winners After Season's 1st Month
But at 15-13, they could be doing worse. And they certainly have players who are worthy of assorted shoutouts.
So let's hand out some monthly awards to the Red Sox players who deserve them. These include standard fare like Rookie, Cy Young and MVP, plus two additional just-for-fun awards.
Rookie of the Month: Andrew Benintendi
Not too much thought required here. The Red Sox don't have many rookies, and the biggest name of the bunch also happens to be the best of the bunch.
Never mind just Boston's top prospect. Most major publications had Andrew Benintendi ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball coming into the year. That put a hefty amount of hype on the 22-year-old's shoulders.
He's lived up to it.
Through 26 games, Benintendi has a .305/.364/.429 slash line with three home runs and two stolen bases. The way he works counts and finds holes in defenses has made him a classic fit for the No. 2 slot he occupies.
"I've seen him on TV," Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after getting an up-close look at Benintendi at Fenway Park, according to MassLive.com's Jen McCaffrey. "He plays different in person. He's really good. I'm not afraid to say it, but that's Freddie Lynn reincarnated right there. That's a pretty good comp."
Granted, Benintendi doesn't have Lynn's power—not yet, anyway.
But coming on the heels of his impressive breakthrough in 2016, any doubts about his capacity for big league stardom are dwindling.
Cy Young of the Month: Chris Sale
Cy Young of the Month, eh? Well, it seems the choices are Chris Sale and...well, Chris Sale.
If Benintendi has lived up to the hype of being baseball's No. 1 prospect, then Sale has taken the hype of being a blockbuster trade acquisition and cut it up like a throwback uniform.
Through six starts, the left-hander has a 1.38 ERA and leads all starters, with 45.2 innings and 63 strikeouts. He's struck out at least 10 batters in each of his last five starts, tying Pedro Martinez for the Red Sox record.
"It's special," Sale said, per Ian Browne and Craig Forde of MLB.com. "I don't put a whole lot of weight in those kind of things—numbers, stats, that kind of stuff. But when you're talking about him, that's special, and I appreciate that."
How is Sale doing it? His velocity has ticked back up after going down in 2016, and he's launched an all-out assault on the strike zone. "Here it is—hit it," he's saying. And batters just can't do it.
MVP of the Month: Chris Sale
Thought we were done heaping praise on Sale? You thought wrong.
For the Red Sox's first-month MVP, there's no competition in terms of statistical value. Baseball Reference puts Sale's WAR at 2.4. Albeit without Thursday's game against the Baltimore Orioles in the equation, no other Red Sox pitcher or hitter has accounted for more than 0.8 WAR.
Then again, this is a case where statistics aren't even that necessary.
The Red Sox have had a weird season. Perhaps the defining feature of it is a lack of synergy, both in their lineup and in their pitching staff. Individual players have had their moments, but Boston is still waiting for the entire machine to get cranking.
For the time being, Sale is the primary energy source.
He's yet to have a bad start, going at least seven innings and allowing no more than two earned runs each time out. And despite getting just 2.4 runs of support per game, the Red Sox are still 4-2 in games he's started.
Take Sale away from the Red Sox, and they're a .500 team devoid of major bright spots. It's that simple.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Mitch Moreland
How about an award for a player who, while maybe not the best player on the Red Sox, has at least been better than expected?
Between his hot bat and rejuvenated defense, Christian Vazquez is a strong candidate. Just not as strong as Mitch Moreland.
Moreland's glove was the main reason the Red Sox inked him to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. Hanley Ramirez would be filling David Ortiz's shoes at designated hitter. Coming off a Gold Glove win for 2016, Moreland was a logical choice for a defensive upgrade over Ramirez at first base.
Through 27 games, the 31-year-old has provided good defense and good offense. He has a .265/.353/.451 slash line with two home runs and an MLB-high 13 doubles.
Good stuff for a guy who only put up a .754 OPS in seven years with the Texas Rangers. But Moreland does seem to be a different hitter. His walk rate is up, and he's working on his highest-ever hard-hit rate.
"He's got good plate coverage," said Red Sox manager John Farrell in April, per Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "He's not making him susceptible to one area of the strike zone or one particular pitch. He might be giving up a little bit of power for the all-field approach. It's been working for him."
We'll see what the rest of the season holds. But so far, Moreland has been $5.5 million well spent.
'Sigh of Relief' Award: Craig Kimbrel
No, that isn't a misprint. It isn't supposed to say "Cy of Relief."
This award is for the Red Sox player who's provided more than adequate answers to looming questions. It just so happens it's going to a relief pitcher.
Craig Kimbrel didn't have a bad season in 2016. After all, he was an All-Star. But it was easily the worst season of his decorated career, and there came a point when games rarely felt safe in his hands.
Now he looks like his vintage self again.
Kimbrel has appeared in 12 games and allowed only two runs on five hits and two walks. The best part: He's struck out 24 of the 48 batters he's faced.
The big difference is health. Although it was a knee injury that put the right-hander on the disabled list last July, he had already been pitching through a finger injury.
"I banged my finger up a little bit last year, and it kind of got me into some bad habits, yanking the ball," Kimbrel told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford.
So if anyone couldn't put a finger on why Kimbrel was struggling and is now dominant again, there you go.