Jonny Gomes likes to say there are two players in major league baseball who do not struggle for prolonged stretches. One is the American League MVP. The other is the National League MVP.
“The rest of us? We all hit peaks and valleys,” Gomes said. “Ideally, we’d all like to be hot. But what makes a winning team is when one guy cools off, another carries the load. We all take turns. Right now, it’s Nap’s turn.”
Indeed, Boston’s No. 5 hitter, Mike Napoli, is hot. With a home run and a double in Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Rays, Napoli provided most of the Red Sox’ offense.
The Sox tallied five hits, Napoli accounted for two.
The lone Boston run came on Napoli’s seventh-inning homer. Tampa Bay starter David Price stifled the Sox, needing only 97 pitches for a complete game. Napoli’s homer sailed over the Monster seats and into the parking lot.
In Napoli’s last eight games, he’s hitting .407 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs, and five RBIs.
The 31-year-old has also reached base in his last 15 starts — his longest streak since he posted a career-best 21 last season with Texas.
Of Napoli’s 14 home runs, five have come over the last 14 games.
The biggest, of course, was his solo shot in the 11th inning Sunday night against the Yankees. The blast — into the center-field bleachers — ended the 4-hour-46-minute game.
These numbers are in stark contrast to the Napoli the Red Sox saw in June. He hit .263 in 21 games last month, tallying only one double and one home run. He struck out 25 times.
Gomes said he wasn’t worried. He and Napoli discuss hitting a lot. And he knows that Napoli is the type of hitter who will never slump for long.
“Whether he’s struggling or whether he’s not, if you look at his season statistics, the numbers are there,” Gomes said.
Gomes, like Napoli, is a free swinger.
“A majority of our outs are strikeouts,” Gomes said. “When you break it all down, would you rather a powerful swing as a strikeout or a 37-hopper to third base? Both are outs. So Nap just stays with his approach and the results, like you’ve seen lately, will come. I wouldn’t call him streaky, by any means.”
Before the game, manager John Farrell noted Napoli’s reemergence.
“He lengthens the lineup, giving further protection behind David [Ortiz],” Farrell said. “He’s an extra-base threat any time he steps into the box, those are all things he’s capable of and certainly things we’ll need.”
After the walkoff homer against the Yankees, Napoli said he had made a slight adjustment to his approach.
“I’m seeing the ball a little bit better,” Napoli said. “For me, it’s just being able to have my foot down on time and be ready to hit.”
“As basic as you can say it, he’s just getting his front foot down earlier than in a stretch of time where he was a little bit late, causing his swing to be a little bit more long,” Farrell said. “Just in his own explanation of talking to him about it, he just feels like he’s getting ready on time, sooner.”
The Sox have been in first place in the AL East since May 27, but over the last nine games they’re 4-5, and are batting .221 with a .272 on-base percentage in that stretch.
The Sox need batters to step up. Right now, it seems to be Napoli.Emily Kaplan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilymkaplan.