Red Sox manager John Farrell knew that Mike Napoli‘s uppercut, right-handed swing would fit in perfectly in Fenway Park’s unique dimensions when he brought in the former Texas Ranger over the winter. But it’s doubtful that even Farrell could have predicted just how productive his new first baseman has been.
After a five-RBI effort Monday night, Napoli has now driven in a major-league high 25 runs this season, putting him on pace to shatter his career high of 75 set in 2011.
And with the return of David Ortiz, the pleasantly surprising power of Daniel Nava and signs that Will Middlebrooks — who homered Monday for the first time since April 7 — may finally be emerging from his near-month-long slump, this year’s roster has a chance to become the best power-hitting club Boston has seen since the days of Manny Ramirez.
“The last 10 days, his swing has become much more compact,” Farrell said of Napoli. “With David hitting in front of him, I’m not going to say that makes opposing pitcher pitch differently to him, but he feels very comfortable in this ballpark. That’s proven over time. The fact that we’re here 19 games into the season and he has 25 RBIs, he’s doing exactly what we had hoped he would do. It’s great to see that production in the middle of the order. … I don’t know if you can pitch [against] him consistently.”
The task will be getting that production straight through the heart of the order on a given night, something the Sox exemplified in a 9-6 win over Oakland on Monday. Boston’s No. 4 through No. 7 hitters — Ortiz, Napoli, Nava and Middlebrooks — combined to reach base nine times, total four extra-base hits (including two home runs) and score seven of the team’s nine runs.
At the heart of that production was Napoli, who, having slid down to the No. 5 slot in the order with Ortiz back in the lineup, drove in Big Papi with a double for the team’s first run, was hit by a pitch and scored in the fourth inning, and provided the eventual nail in the coffin with his fourth career grand slam one inning later.
“[It was a] good offensive night,” Farrell said. “We knew [A's starter A.J.] Griffin was going to come in with a high strike percentage. I thought our guys did a great job of going early in the count and squaring him up. The five-run fifth, obviously highlighted by the grand slam, was key for us, and it’s good to see Will come up in a big situation with a three-run homer.”
While a team clearly cannot win games on power alone — and the Red Sox were certainly buoyed by a flawed, yet solid performance by starter Felix Doubront — the top performers need to produce as such for a team to be successful.
A look at the other side of Monday’s scoresheet illustrates that exact point. While Boston’s heavy hitters all came through with solid efforts, the A’s best bats were largely silent. Coco Crisp, the team leader in homers, total bases and slugging percentage, and Jed Lowrie, who leads Oakland in every other significant offensive category, combined to go 0-for-8 with a pair of walks, one run scored and zero RBIs.
The difference was evident on the field, and it showed on the scoreboard, as well.