Guess what? It's time for me to bitch about Mike Napoli again. I know, I know. I should get a life, right? Or find something else to talk about? Hell, maybe I should comment on how well the Red Sox are doing instead of always looking for something negative, right?
One positive aspect of the Red Sox loss against the Rangers last night was that that the game was close, and it felt like the Sox might be able to pull off a come from behind victory at any time. Lackey had a great start, as well, limiting the Rangers' playoff-caliber hitting to a run over six innings.
Jose Iglesais continues to place himself on the short list for Rookie of the Year candidates by getting a single in the 7th, extending his hitting streak to nine games while moving a baserunner to second. The Sox didn't score, unfortunately, but one must wonder if Iglesais could help drive in runs if he was hitting second instead of ninth. Either way, with Middlebrooks being told that his stay in Pawtucket will be extended until he shapes the fuck up, the front office seems ready to adopt the ethos of placing the best team on the field instead of using players that gross money from Pink Hat merchandise sales. Now, if Salty could only be moved to place Lavarnway in the lineup...
The bad part is that you could see this loss coming from a mile away because Alexi Ogando was starting for the Rangers, and the Red Sox have a tough time winning against pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00. Some of you might have questions when I point this out, such as: "What's the big fucking deal? Doesn't every team have difficulty against good starters? Isn't that baseball? Don't you realize that the Red Sox have the most runs scored in the Majors right now? What the fuck is wrong with you?"
I could sit back and enjoy seeing the 2013 Red Sox run up 17-5 victories against shitty pitching while shrugging off close losses to spectacular pitching, but witnessing the latter reveals more than the former because it shows deficiencies with this team that will become more pronounced as their schedule becomes more difficult in August and September, with plenty of games against the Yankees, Rays and Baltimore; along with a series against teams with great starters like the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Dodgers. If the Red Sox make it to the playoffs after all of that, most of the pitching they will face will make last night's starter, Alexi Ogando, look pedestrian.
What would bring the overachieving Red Sox hitting over the hump is another hitter in the meat of their order that can produce against great pitchers. And that brings me back to Mike Napoli because, so far, Mike Napoli hasn't been that hitter.
How many home runs has Napoli hit off of pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00? None.
How many homers has Napoli hit off pitchers with an ERA under 4.00? Three, and two were against relievers. The only questionably "tough" starter that Napoli has teed off against is Jeremy Guthrie.
Conversely, how many homers has Napoli hit against pitchers with an ERA above 5.00? Four.
As I've mentioned before (and repeatedly) in tweets, 5 of Napoli's 9 homers have come against the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox don't have this problem with David Ortiz -- he has made a career off of hammering great pitching. This year, we've already seen Big Papi rake against Yu Darvish, Matt Moore and Hiroki Kuroda.
Napoli has gotten some RBIs off fielder's choice balls and sacrifice flies against decent pitchers, so at least he can put the ball in play when runners are on base to make something happen. And, as evidenced by his stats, Napoli has a big stick against bad pitching.
The question regarding Napoli, with a third of the season over, is whether he'll be able to step it up and rake against great pitching or is he just an overachiever? The answer to this question may be the deciding factor in whether the Red Sox lineup can survive the final third of the season or regress to a .500 ballclub that doesn't make the playoffs.