Sox would love to see Napoli, Middlebrooks get hot

Sox would love to see Napoli, Middlebrooks get hot
October 10, 2013, 6:30 pm
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Mike Napoli, left, and Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox's biggest right-handed power threats, each had up-and-down seasons.

(AP Photo)

BOSTON - In scoring 26 runs in the first four games of the postseason, the Red Sox got very little in the way of contributions from their two primary right-handed power sources.
      
First baseman Mike Napoli, who finished second on the team in both homers and RBI in the regular season, was just 2-for-13 as the Sox were dispatching the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.
      
Napoli managed just one extra-base hit -- a double in Game 1.
      
Meanwhile, third baseman Will Middlebrooks was only marginally better, with just three hits in 13 at-bats.
      
Together, the two combined for just one RBI.
      
But as the Red Sox get ready to move on to the American League Championship Series, it would seem neither player is in jeopardy of losing playing time -- at least early in the series --  despite other viable options available to John Farrell and his coaching staff.
      
Both players were notoriously streaky over the course of the 162-game regular season and Farrell is betting that, if he remains loyal to the pair, he'll eventually be rewarded.
      
"With those guys in particular,'' said Farrell, "you've got to be willing to ride out [the dips]. We're well aware of when they're best and how they get there.''
      
The Sox saw first-hand what Napoli can do when he's hot. After missing playing  time in August because of a nagging bout of plantar fasciitis, Napoli returned to form in late and early September and went on a tear.
      
From Aug. 24 through Sept. 11, a stetch of 15 games, Napoli hit a smoldering  .392 with six homers and 15 RBI, while compiling an other-wordly OPS of 1.363. Another stretch took place in first few weeks of the season as the Sox waited for David Ortiz to make his 2013 debut.
      
More than once this season, Farrell noted that a hot Napoli gave the Sox a different -- and far more dangerous - lineup. When Napoli is going well, he helps David Ortiz, hitting in fromt of him, see better pitches, while serving to lengthen out the lineup.
      
Middlebrooks had a season every bit as unpredictable. In May, he lost playing  time at third to Jose Ieglesias, and eventually, was demoted to Triple A Pawtucket, where he spent better than two months refining his swing and regaining his focus.
      
When Middlebrooks returned in August, after Iglesias had been dealt away, he immediately got on one of his patented hot streaks, posting a .551 slugging percentage and an OPS of .999 over a span of just over two weeks.
     
The trick, of course, is to be patient when things aren't going as well, knowing that a torrid stretch is right around the corner.
      
"I think both have shown similar streakiness,'' said Farrell. "When are you going to predict when you're going to be able to catch the upside of it. You've got to kind of live through both ends of it.''
      
To help determine which way a hitter is trending, Farrell and hitting coaches Greg Colbrunn and Victor Martinez examine at-bats and study video.
      
"Contact point [is important],' said Farrell, "and sometimes you get a feel for what the mindset is in a given swing. Is it a defensive one? Is it an aggrssive one? That's an outward sign of what's going on internally and you can feel, 'OK, he's right on the cusp.' So that's more [using a] gut feel and eye.''
      
In the first few games of the ALCS, look for Farrell to stay with the same lineup, including Napoli and Middlebrooks. Still, as the series develops, there are options on the bench that could a shot.
      
The left-handed hitting Mike Carp could get an opportunity, since the Sox will see nothing but right-handed starters in the series. And rookie Xander Bogaerts is waiting in the wings at third, though the Sox see Middlebrooks as the superior defender at the position, which may be enough for him to continue to get playing time even if he's not producing as much as they would like at the plate.
      
"There might be a matchup in this coming series,'' said Farrell, "where we'll look to put...guys who are in consistent starting roles in positions to succeed. If that means a different lineup for a matchup, that's certainly a potential.''