Cleveland Indians Need Mike Napoli to Start Producing
The Cleveland Indians were the second-highest scoring team in the American League in 2016, but their cleanup hitter has virtually disappeared in the postseason.
When the regular season came to an end, the Cleveland Indians were ranked No. 2 in the American League in runs scored. Cleveland got there thanks to a host of players stepping up and posting career-high offensive numbers.
At the center of that for the Indians since Opening Day has been Mike Napoli, the vaunted “right-handed power bat” that the franchise has been in search of for more than a decade. In his 11th big league season, Napoli slashed .239 /.335/.465 and set new high marks with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs. He also set a Tribe record by striking out 194 times.
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As Cleveland has opened the postseason winning its first five games, its cleanup hitter has been largely invisible, carrying over a late-season slump. In the month of September, Napoli had a .140/.289/.323 slash line, with five of his 13 hits in the month going for homers, which was good for a wRC+ of just 67.
“Obviously, the results aren’t there,” Napoli said. “I’ve been a little bit up and down. I feel good sometimes, sometimes I don’t.”
In the playoffs, his line is an even more dismal .111/.111/.167 after collecting just two hits in 18 at-bats. The run-scoring ability the Indians displayed in 2016 has been hampered in the postseason by Napoli’s lack of production.
The team is averaging 3.8 runs per game, down a full run from the regular season. That’s not all on Napoli, but it’s clear his struggles are preventing the club from running on all cylinders.
Fortunately for the Tribe, the team’s pitching and defense have been tremendous thus far in the postseason, limiting the opposition to a mere eight runs in five games (1.6 runs per game).
Napoli is an immensely popular player. “Party at Napoli’s” t-shirts can be seen all over the city of Cleveland, scoreboards are afraid of him, and managers jump into his arms in celebration. But at some point, the question must be asked whether the team wouldn’t be better served by dropping him in the order or giving him a day off.
The 34-year old has game-changing power, though, which is what makes such a move so difficult.
“I think with Nap the really good thing is, and he’s aware of this, is he always has that three-run homer sitting there,” said Terry Francona. “And he’s always dangerous. That has to be respected. And he doesn’t let it wear on him.
“I feel like I’m one pitch away from doing something.”
Fortunately, across the field from Cleveland, a similar lack of production is plaguing the Blue Jays’ cleanup hitter as well. Jose Bautista, who in a season limited to 116 games due to injury still managed to slash .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs, 69 RBIs, and a wRC+ of 122, has seen his numbers fall off a cliff in the postseason, too.
In 21 playoff at-bats, Bautista has just three hits, good for a .143/.308/.429 slash line. Two of those hits were longballs, and he’s driven in five runs, but all of those came in the Wild Card game and Game One of the ALDS. In the four games since, Bautista is hitless in 14 at-bats.
Compounding his issues at the plate, the 35-year old made news on Sunday with a quote that was flat-out whiny, suggesting some sort of conspiracy by the umpires to deliver the series to the Indians. (The Tribe’s official twitter account responded to Bautista with some big league shade.)
This much is clear: Cleveland wouldn’t be where it is without Napoli, but it’s also clear that the road to an ALCS victory, and ultimately a World Series championship, is much rockier without him hitting the ball.
“I stay positive always,” Napoli said. “I feel like I’m one pitch away from doing something.”
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Napoli has proven himself capable of carrying his team’s offensive attack, and the whole complexion of this series could be changed by one swing of his bat. If the Indians hope to defeat Toronto and advance to bigger things ahead, the party needs to get started in the cleanup spot in Game Three.