Let’s get this out of the way first: The Boston Red Sox’s recently completed seven-game road trip was a disaster in every sense of the word. It effectively erased any progress the team had made before the All-Star break, and with it any reasonable hope of contending for a playoff berth.
That being said, there was one Red Sox player who seemed to avoid the tornado of destruction that consumed the majority of his teammates: Mike Napoli.
After carrying a meager .193 batting average into the break and looking so lost at the plate that manager John Farrell was forced to give David Ortiz reps at first base, Napoli’s season depended on a strong return from the team’s four-day layoff.
He started slowly. A series against the Los Angeles Angels — a team Napoli has pummeled every since leaving Anaheim in 2010 — began with an 0-for-3 showing in a shutout loss. He rode the bench for Game 2 of the four-game set, then struck out three times in Game 1 of a doubleheader, though he did single and drive in a run.
But then, the veteran first baseman finally rediscovered the power stroke that has eluded him all season. He went 6-for-11 over his next three games, capping it off with a 3-for-4 showing in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros.
“I felt a lot better,” Napoli told reporters, as aired on “Red Sox Final.” “Since the All-Star break, I’ve been feeling better. I was able to bring whatever I was working on in the cage and BP into the game.”
Napoli homered in the second inning against the Astros — breaking a 74-at-bat streak without one that dated back to June 19 — doubled in the fourth and doubled again in the eighth to drive in Hanley Ramirez and tie the game at four runs apiece. It was Napoli’s first three-hit performance since April 25 and his first that included three of the extra-base variety since May 1, 2013.
“The last four games, he’s swinging the bat probably as good as any time during the season,” manager John Farrell told reporters. “Extra-base hits, the power to the pull side is there, he’s getting through with some good path to the swing. (It was) very encouraging, in particular these last four games.”
Of course, it would be unwise to place too much stock in one four-game span, especially considering Napoli himself did pretty much this same exact thing earlier this season. But in this particular case, short-term success might be enough.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching and the gap between the Red Sox and the American League’s elite widening by the day, there’s been heavy speculation Boston might be looking to deal some of its veteran pieces — a category that includes Napoli. Coming out of the break, the 33-year-old had minimal trade value, but a few more games of prolonged offensive production could pique a rival’s interest.
Although that would not be the desired outcome for Napoli, who joined the Red Sox prior to the 2013 World Series championship season, general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this week the team is willing to make moves if desirable ones present themselves.
“I signed here,” Napoli said Tuesday, via The Boston Globe. “I want to stay here, and I want to be with my teammates. If they trade me, that is out of my control. I’ll deal with it then.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images