Don’t look now but in the last two games, Mike Napoli has three home runs. If you kick it back to include the Rangers series, Napoli is 7-18 with four home runs and has reached base at least twice in four of five games.
The pronounced struggles of Napoli have been one of the major story lines around a struggling Red Sox lineup this season, but now he appears to have emerged from that miserable stretch and a fully functional Napoli could pay huge dividends in the Red Sox offense.
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Napoli is still having a terrible season by any standards, currently slashing .193/.292/.385 with 7 home runs. Curiously, however, most of his peripheral stats are similar to his career norms– his walk rate is almost dead even with his career, his strikeout rate is actually lower, and although his isolated power is a bit lower, that could just be a result of aging. The main culprit for Napoli’s sharp decline in batting average has simply been an absurdly low BABIP, as Napoli has hit a startling .204 on balls in play, well short of his career .307 mark.
But while this hot stretch is obviously big news for Napoli, it’s equally important for the Red Sox. With nearly everybody on the team scuffling across the past two weeks, one hot bat like Napoli (an inherently streaky player who has carried the Red Sox at times) could have an enormous effect on the team.
Perhaps a strong bat hitting in the five hole will simply allow the Red Sox to bring in a few more runners in scoring position. But more importantly, having a scintillating bat in the lineup could motivate the rest of the team and bring about the prodigious offense that the Red Sox have on paper.
Numbers such as Boston’s microscopic average with runners in scoring position are issues that should resolve on their own, as it’s likely more statistical noise than anything else (MLB veterans don’t just suddenly forget how to hit with runners in scoring position). However, watching Napoli tear opponents apart could bring that change about for the Red Sox. It’s important to remember that MLB stars are people to, who might be disheartened with Boston’s recent performance. But if Napoli is able to change that mentality, he could change the course of the rest of the season.
Maybe Napoli’s hot streak is just an isolated stretch of good games. Maybe it’s a vengeance thing, spurred by facing his two former teams on this home stand. However, maybe it’s a significant change in his plate approach which will bring both Napoli and the Red Sox back to the power production that we all know and love.