Tomase: Red Sox superlatives (and demerits) at season's halfway point originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
A strange first half for the Red Sox officially came to an end on Tuesday night in fitting fashion -- under buckets of rain with the tying run at the plate against the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays.
Trevor Story popped up to end the 8-4 loss that completed 50 percent of the schedule with the Red Sox on pace for exactly 90 wins.
With game No. 81 in the books, now is a good time to hand out some superlatives for this tale of two seasons, with the misery of April giving way to the heights of June, and now July capable of going either way.
Best player: Rafael Devers
The team MVP isn't much of a contest, because Devers should be in the running for American League MVP, too. The third baseman (who you may have heard remains without a long-term contract) has taken his game to another level across all facets.
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He leads the AL in hits, doubles, and total bases, and his .327 average ranks second. With 17 homers and a .962 OPS, he's by far the most dangerous hitter in a lineup that includes perennial All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.
Add wildly improved defense at third base, where he has cleaned up the sloppy throwing errors that dragged down his metrics, and we're talking about a complete slugger. Oh, man, is he gonna be rich.
Best pitcher: Nick Pivetta
Right-hander Michael Wacha or reliever John Schreiber could make a claim to this spot, but Pivetta has handled himself like an ace, especially after All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi hit the injured list with a bad back.
Between losses to the Orioles on May 1 and the Rays on Tuesday night, Pivetta went 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA. He ranks third in the American League in innings pitched (100.1) and first in starts (17), and that reliability has made him a bastion of stability in a rotation that's currently missing the other 80 percent of its members.
Biggest disappointment: Chris Sale
It would be easy to say Bobby Dalbec or Jackie Bradley Jr. because of their meager offensive numbers, but how much were they being counted on to begin with?
Sale is different. Not only has he missed the first three-plus months with a cracked rib that he suffered while throwing an Instagram bullpen during the lockout, but he has loomed over the team's whole vaccination controversy as the highest-profile player who remains squirrely about whether he'll be able to play the penultimate series of the season in Toronto. That's not leadership.
Some may argue it's unfair to single out a player with a legitimate injury, but the big picture is ugly. Since his five-year, $145 million extension kicked in in 2020, Sale has made just nine starts. Add a postseason ERA of 6.35 with the Red Sox and it's absolutely fair to say he has failed to deliver.
Nicest surprise: John Schreiber
I mean, who? The right-hander who posted a 6.28 ERA over his first two seasons with the Tigers is a borderline All-Star. His 0.66 ERA ranks second only to Clay Holmes (0.40) of the Yankees among pitchers with at least 25 innings, and he has saved the Red Sox bullpen from disaster.
Manager Alex Cora has been referring to him as, "my best reliever" for some time now, and there's no arguing the point. The sidewinder has hit 97 mph from an arm angle that should produce frisbees and the Red Sox might be sub-.500 without him.
Nicest surprise, Part II: Franchy Cordero
The numbers don't jump off the page -- .255 with three homers and a .731 OPS -- but Cordero stabilized the black hole of first base, and he should probably have more to show for it, because he consistently hits rockets.
Between Cordero and right-hander Josh Winckowski, the return for Andrew Benintendi suddenly feels bountiful. It's also worth noting that Cordero's teammates love his gregarious presence, as well as his celebrations on the basepaths.
Nicest surprise, Part III: Jarren Duran
You've got to give Duran credit. A top prospect who raced to the big leagues after developing power last year at Triple-A Worcester, his introduction to big league pitching was such a disaster, he never even sniffed the Opening Day roster this year.
He returned to Worcester without complaint and rediscovered the line drive stroke that had made him a prospect in the first place, since it allows him to use his blazing speed. Passed over multiple times for promotion, he nonetheless bided his time and finally took advantage of extended playing time in June. All he has done since is lock down the leadoff spot by hitting .329 with five steals.
It's hard to imagine Kiké Hernández regaining his job in center or atop the order when he returns.
Best win: Red Sox 8, Mariners 4
This was a crazy one, and it completed a Fenway sweep of the M's in late May.
The Red Sox blew a 3-2 lead when Hansel Robles served up a game-tying homer to Eugenio Suarez with two outs in the ninth. They trailed in the 10th before tying it on Hernández's RBI single that also saw Christian Vazquez erased at the plate.
No matter, because the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs before Cordero launched a hanging 0-2 slider over the bullpens for a walkoff grand slam.
Worst loss: Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 5
Which 6-5 loss to the Jays, you might ask, because there were two. While last week's blown save without Tanner Houck certainly hurt, it pales in comparison to the first visit to Toronto.
On April 26, the Red Sox carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth, only for Jake Diekman to serve up a game-tying two-run homer to George Springer with two outs.
After the Red Sox failed to score in the 10th, Matt Barnes walked the bases loaded (Vladimir Guerrero intentionally) before Matt Strahm served up Raimel Tapia's walkoff sacrifice fly. The defeat dropped the Red Sox to 7-11 on their way to 10-19.
Best/worst debut: Trevor Story
There's a lot to like about the free agent second baseman, but enough to give you pause, too. On the plus side, Story is playing a Gold Glove second base, with incredible range and an accurate arm. He's also hitting for power, with 14 homers and a team-leading 54 RBIs, and doing damage on the bases with 10 steals in 10 tries.
That's all good, but it's hard to overlook that he's hitting only .224 and is on pace to strike out a career-high 198 times. Tuesday offered the Story experience in a nutshell -- he homered early, exploited terrible Rays baserunning to turn a pair of double plays, and then struck out with runners on second and third to end one inning, and popped up with the bases loaded to end the game.
On the whole, he has made the team better, but he can be pitched to in big situations, and that's a concern.