COMMENTARY | When the Boston Red Sox travel to St. Louis for Game 3 of the World Series, they're going to have a difficult decision to make.
Both David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have had tremendously successful postseasons, combining for 6 of the team's 7 home runs. Taking either bat out of the lineup would be a significant blow to the Red Sox, but the NL still lacks a DH and only one can play first base.
What if Napoli played catcher while in St. Louis?
Keeping Napoli in the lineup -- let's be honest, Papi isn't sitting -- would be a huge advantage. Game 1's heroics aside, Napoli isn't a stranger to postseason success. In the Texas Rangers' 2011 World Series run, he went 7-for-20 with 10 RBIs in the final round. Those are MVP numbers and had the Rangers won, it may have been official.
It would be the ultimate unorthodox lineup for a manager known for going with his gut rather than sense; John Farrell has played more Jonny Gomes than Daniel Nava in the playoffs despite the latter having better numbers.
Though he only rotated between DH and first this year, Napoli has spent the majority of his career behind the plate; his 500-plus games worth of experience isn't a skill easily forgotten. He's been effective when in that role, posting a career catcher ERA of 4.32 and a .244 caught-stealing percentage -- better numbers than Jarrod Saltalamacchia (4.49 and .227).
When considering Napoli's far superior bat, the decision seems like a no-brainer.
Avascular necrosis (AVN) -- a progressive, degenerative disorder that kills bone tissue -- in both hips originally forced Napoli to first. AVN can be caused by a host of issues, including the wear and tear of crouching as a catcher over multiple years, though it's uncommon in baseball. But Napoli has been mostly healthy this year, smashing his career high in games played, and when he has missed time, it's been with issues unrelated to his condition.
Napoli's knees are unlikely to be in such poor shape that he couldn't handle catching duties for two or three games while in St. Louis. The only concern would be his lack of familiarity with John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, projected starters for Games 3 and 4.
In the end, it's unlikely that Farrell will even consider playing Napoli at catcher. It's a move that could pay off big time, but also a risky one if Napoli needs any sort of adjustment period. The last thing the Red Sox need is to go down early based on a passed ball or two.
Farrell will have to settle for picking his battles, and that means losing even more offense. In a tight series, the lack of a true No. 5 hitter could be the difference.
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