Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor

Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor

For a while there, it looked like Mike Napoli was remembering how to be a consistent middle of the order hitter again. But much like the Red Sox’ 2015 season, the first baseman’s late May renaissance was just a fleeting glimpse of promising talent.

From May 19th to the 28th, Napoli was hitting .371 and reaching base at a .463 clip. The 33-year old began driving in runs in bunches, collecting 11 RBI and clubbing 5 home runs during his hot streak. This torrid pace obviously wasn’t expected to last, but Napoli reviving his otherwise dead bat was thought to be the spark he would need to ignite his season.

Since his break from mediocrity, however, Napoli has taken two steps backwards; effectively undoing any good his little May surge did for him. This month Napoli’s batting average is an anemic .156, with an equally feeble .170 OBP. The power we thought was coming around last month was just a mirage, as evidence of his 3 extra base hits over the last 12 games. Meanwhile, simply putting the bat on the ball is an accomplishment as he’s struck out a whopping 17 times this month and walked just once.

The month of June is really just a microcosm of what has gone wrong for Napoli all season so far. His shoddy batting average in the month of June isn’t far from the .196 season average he currently holds. 17 strikeouts is child’s play considering the 60 he has collected this season. And just one walk seems like a great accomplishment when knowing that he’s taken just 28 free passes in over 230 plate appearances. Power has become an after thought, as has been relying on Napoli to drive in runners when Boston actually manages to put men on.

Mike Napoli is like the Red Sox Gronk, so naturally I want to see him succeed and take another shirtless trip down Boylston Street. But Boston can’t keep running him out there day after day, and expect him to start mashing. The team needs to start challenging his starting spot, and Allen Craig is the perfect player for the job.

Craig didn’t take very well to a bench/platoon role with the Red Sox after arriving in Boston last July as part of the Joe Kelly trade. On top of trying to recover from a Lisfrac injury, the first baseman/outfielder struggled to get into the groove of inconsistent playing time. Subsequently, Craig slashed just .135/.237/.192 in 24 games with Boston. In early May, Craig was sent down to triple-A Pawtucket and outrighted off Boston’s 40-man roster.

Since playing consistently in Pawtucket, the 30-year old has looked more like his former self. In 27 games, Craig holds a .297/.395/.402 slash line with a 19/15 K/BB. Craig has seen most of his starts in the outfield, but has also received some time at first base.

In light of Napoli’s downward spiral and Craig reestablishing himself in the minors, it certainly seems like there is a position battle to be had here. It’s also important to remember that Napoli is a free agent to-be, while Craig is still owed $20 million over this year and next, including a 2018 club option. Boston should take this to mean that Craig is the investment, Napoli isn’t.

Designating Napoli for assignment, an idea that’s been bounced around, seems rash right now, but Boston needs to turn the heat on the fan favorite. With Craig trending upwards in the minors, this could be the perfect time to not only give Napoli a push, but to also see if Craig can breath some life into Boston’s suffocating lineup.

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