The stagnant Boston Red Sox offense has been the story of the 2014 season. The defending champions have limped out to a 28-35 start, their worst record through 63 games since 1997, when they started 26-37 en route to a 78-84 finish.
A mediocre top half of the batting order, bolstered by the good play of late by Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts but hindered by the underperformance of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, is complemented by a putrid bottom half. Hitters No. 6-9 (Daniel Nava, Grady Sizemore, Jonathan Herrera, David Ross) of Boston’s order on Monday night, in which they were blanked by the Baltimore Orioles 4-0, had combined for a .234 BA, 24 extra-base hits, six HRs and 30 RBIs going into the contest.
That’s been the chief issue for the Red Sox offense that ranks 12th in the AL in runs scored with 253. The slots behind the cleanup spot has combined to create a giant gaping hole. John Farrell has had to depend on the likes of Jonny Gomes, Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski in the fifth spot. For the next four spots, he’s had to call on anybody who has a pair of hands and can grip a baseball bat.
Luckily for Farrell, the Red Sox active roster has gained another human being with that innate ability to not only grip a baseball bat, but hit a baseball a pretty long way.
Mike Napoli was activated from the DL on Sunday, fully healed from a dislocated finger he suffered on April 15. Inserted into the lineup for the Sunday night showdown with the Detroit Tigers, he went 3-for-4 with a home run in a 5-3 Boston victory.
In two games since returning, the 32-year-old righty is 3-for-8 with a home run, a walk and two strikeouts. He made a strong bid for a second home run on Monday night, jumping on a 94 mph Bud Norris fastball and driving it to the edge of the warning track. Unfortunately, Orioles center fielder David Lough had enough real estate to pull off the F-8.
Through two games, it looks like the Red Sox have regained Napoli’s bat, which has been missed for the better part of two months. After suffering the finger injury in April, Napoli had discomfort while gripping the bat, negatively altering his swing. It showed in the box score, as he hit just .238 with nine extra-base hits, two HRs, and 13 RBIs after he suffered the finger injury and prior to being placed on the DL on May 25, compared to the .302/.393/.509 slash line, five extra-base hits, three HRs, and nine RBIs in 61 plate appearances prior to sustaining the injury.
Napoli gives the Red Sox order a legitimate No. 5 hitter. He’s a respected bat, a guy who can hit for power, and a guy who offers protection for Bogaerts, Ortiz and Pedroia. He’s an upgrade from anybody the Red Sox have been forced to put in the fifth spot in his absence.
In 2013, where Napoli hit fifth in 84 games, the Sox offense was the best in the majors, near or at the top in virtually every major offense category. Napoli hit .259 with an .842 OPS, 61 extra-base hits, 23 HRs, and 92 RBIs. Will the Red Sox lineup reach the heights of the 2013 order that helped give Boston its third World Series title in a decade? Likely not.
But Napoli will help carry it out of the basement.