EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 17, 2013

Napoli, Sox offense must turn things around

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Five of Boston’s past nine losses have been by one run, in part because the offense has struggled to provide the timely hit. The issue was evident Thursday in Toronto when Boston left 12 runners on base and squandered a first-and-third situation with no outs.

The Red Sox lost 10-3 to the New York Yankees here at Fenway Park last night. It was another game where the offense didn’t show up.

That’s nothing new. Boston has lost seven of its past 11 games and has averaged 2.4 runs during the seven losses.

Are the Red Sox showing their true colors and signs of a second-half collapse? Maybe.

Is time to worry? Sure.

At the heart of the offensive issue has been Mike Napoli’s inability to put the ball in play. He is leading the American League in strikeouts (158) and had a recent span of nine in 12 at-bats, although he hasn’t been punched out in the past two games. The most he had ever had in a single season before this year was 137 in 2010.

Napoli is on pace for 206! His poor at-bats are killing the Sox.

He has been moved down to seventh in the batting order and went 1 for 3 with a walk last night.

The right-handed hitting slugger must turn it around or else this offense will continue to sink and Boston’s AL East lead will sink more.

During his career, Napoli is at his best in the final month. He has a career 1.001 OPS in September/October compared to .744 career in August.

He’s not the only one to blame. Stephen Drew entered yesterday batting .194 against lefties.

Still, Napoli’s .156 average here in August and 18 strikeouts in 45 at-bats this month sticks out like the sorest of sore thumbs.

New Yankees first baseman Mark Reynolds led the AL in strikeouts four straight years from 2008-11, including a major league record 223 times in ‘09. He certainly is someone who can provide insight into what Napoli is dealing with.

“I think the difference with high strikeout guys is you feel you’re supposed to get that guy in (from third) and you feel a lot more pressure to get the job done,” Reynolds said. “In the back of your head, the strikeout is there. And I think the pressure, you put it on yourself.

“Once you start doing it, everyone starts talking to you about it, you start thinking about it, and it’s always in your head.”

Is the strikeout really that much worse than a ground out or fly out unless there is a runner to be moved along?

“I’ve been pondering these questions my whole career,” Reynolds said. “I think the thing about it is that if you put the ball in play you have a chance to get on base via an error or finding a hole or anything. But with a strikeout, (an opposing defense) doesn’t have to defend. ... But on the flip side of that, if you hit a ball to second with a guy on first, that’s two outs. Double play.

“So I look at it as that if I don’t get the job done and I strike out, the guy behind me has a chance.”

Reynolds stressed that he and others shouldn’t always make adjustments with two outs because they would then take away from their own strengths. Reynolds’ strength is his power. Same with Napoli. If they shorten their swings with two outs, they won’t hit as many homers and gap shots.

The problem with Napoli though is he’s not providing the power either. He has just one homer this month and only seven since May ended.

“Through my years of dealing with this, I’ve been able to not worry about it as much,” Reynolds said. “I don’t know Napoli’s situation. I don’t know if he’s struck out a lot in the past. Once it gets thrown out there, you start thinking about it a little bit. For me, it’s just water under the bridge. I don’t know Mike at all, but I think eventually he’ll be able to not worry about it.”

Farrell said the Red Sox are living with Napoli’s strikeouts.

“Strikeouts have been part of his career, part of his track record,” Farrell said. “But it’s the tradeoff with the power. We’re certainly willing to accept that. Had that not been the case, he might not be here.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB