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Boston Red Sox’s Mike Napoli Has Become a Liability

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COMMENTARY | If there's one thing Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell can be criticized for, it's giving some of his players too long of a leash. On a night where his team put up 15 runs against the team with the worst ERA in baseball, first baseman Mike Napoli went 0-for-4, striking out twice.

It's become an all too familiar sight for fans of the Red Sox. He's struck out three or more times in a game on 17 occasions this year and ranks second in the MLB in total Ks. He's already struck out more this season than in any in his career, and there are still 47 more games to go. He's on pace for 207 strikeouts, which would be the 4th-most all-time.

Imagine if he hadn't missed 10 games this season.

Though he has a respectable 64 RBIs on the season, 27 of those came in April. And 37 in the months since doesn't exactly make up for his mounting strikeouts. Mr. "Feast or Famine" has been in a long-term drought.

How long is the middle of the lineup going to suffer? He's a momentum killer, and his flailing at-bats have become cringe-worthy. With runners in scoring position, his average has shriveled to .215. With 2 outs and RISP, it's an even-worse .190.

I'm not advocating benching him. His WAR is a very healthy 2.2, and his .994 fielding percentage ranks 10th in MLB among first basemen. But it's become apparent that the Napoli of April isn't the one that's currently slotted 5th in the order. His hot start out of the gate is what's propping up his numbers.

But until he can find his swing and learn how to watch a pitch or two, he deserves to be dropped in the order.

Choosing a replacement wouldn't be easy, however. Third base has been a revolving door of mediocrity at the plate. The hope was that Will Middlebrooks could provide a strong bat from that spot, but he's been playing for Triple-A Pawtucket since being optioned June 25.

Either of Boston's left fielders, Mike Carp or Daniel Nava, could potentially fill the role. Carp has been a pleasant surprise this year, hitting .306 with 29 RBIs in his limited action. Nava has been consistently productive with RISP -- a .320 average. More important, he's rarely had a string of several off-nights in a row.

Both players come with their own share of faults, though. Nava struggles against lefties, while Carp is playing well above his career averages across the board. Still, at this point, both provide better options than Napoli.

With his contract expiring after the season, the Red Sox will have a decision to make regardless. Do they want to invest in a raise for their strikeout king or find a replacement? Napoli has rewarded his team with a healthy campaign, but the sheer amount of whiffs from the 5-hole has to be concerning.

Both player and team can stand to benefit from a shuffle in the order. The Red Sox may be winning -- already matching their win total of 69 from last year -- and piling up the runs, but Napoli hasn't been contributing the way he used to. Until he does, a change has to be made.

Andrew Luistro has followed the Red Sox for over 20 years. He also writes for the The Hockey Writers and Sunbelt Hockey Journal.

Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7.

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