The Cardinals were able to steal home field advantage in the World Series away from the Red Sox by winning Game 2 in Boston on Thursday. Now, the series shifts to St. Louis where the Red Sox will no doubt be more limited offensively and at a disadvantage.
That’s due, in large part, to the fact that they will be without the DH for three games, leaving one of their biggest power hitters on the bench. Manager John Farrell will be hard-pressed to find a way to get both David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the same lineup. Ortiz, when forced to play defensively, only does so at first base. Napoli, meanwhile, hasn’t played a defensive position other than first base all year. While he was a catcher for most of his career leading up to this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross have ably handled those duties this month and putting Napoli behind the plate would be risky at best.
So that leaves Farrell with a nightly decision on which slugger will play at first . Each has played in all 12 games the team has had in the playoffs. Ortiz has hit .268/.392/.659 with five home runs, 12 RBI, and nine walks. Napoli has hit .225/.326/.475 with two homers, six RBI, and 16 strikeouts. Neither has been terribly consistent for the duration of the playoffs, but it’s inarguable that they have both come up with huge hits.
Among Ortiz’s five homers was one of the biggest in Red Sox history. His eighth inning grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 of the ALCS tied a game in which his team had been thoroughly outplayed, and led to Boston’s first win of the series. His two solo homers in Game 2 of the ALDS helped the Sox take a commanding 2-0 series lead. He’s already had two more in the World Series and would have had a third had it not been for Carlos Beltran.
As for Napoli, his two home runs both broke scoreless ties in the ALCS and led to Red Sox wins. In Game 3, on a night when Justin Verlander was nearly unhittable, his 402-foot shot to center field in the seventh inning produced the only run of the game. Two nights later, his 460-foot blast in the second inning was the first time Boston scored against Anibal Sanchez in the series, and gave the team a lead they would not give up.
Both of these players have been huge reasons as to why the Red Sox have even reached the World Series. Shane Victorino’s pennant-clinching grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS was the only Boston homer not hit by Ortiz or Napoli this postseason. One of those players will be forced out of the starting lineup for three important games.
While Ortiz has been better in this postseason, Napoli was better in NL parks during the regular season. This year, the Red Sox had series in Colorado, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Ortiz played in each series and went just 3-for-20 with one homer. Napoli, who did not play in the Colorado series, was 7-for-16 with one homer.
Another factor worth considering is how each player fares as a pinch-hitter. This season, Ortiz went 1-for-2 when coming off the bench, with that one hit a homer against the Angels in July. After that game he said, despite the result that night, he doesn’t like pinch-hitting, and his career numbers seem to reflect that. In 86 career pinch-hit at bats, he has hit just .186 with nine extra-base hits, five of which were homers.
As for Napoli, he also had limited pinch-hitting duty during the regular season. He only had three at bats and had one hit. He’s actually proven to be an even worse lifetime pinch-hitter than Ortiz, with just a .105 average in 38 at bats. That equates to just four hits — only one which went for extra bases and that was a double — matched with 20 strikeouts. Clearly neither he nor Ortiz is very good when entering a game cold off the bench.
Farrell might have chosen which player to start based on pitching matchups, but he doesn’t have much to go on. Neither player has seen Game 3 starter Joe Kelly in the past and only Napoli has batted against Game 4 starter Lance Lynn. Even that is only limited exposure, with just two plate appearances. He was 0-for-1 with a RBI.
As for Game 5, Adam Wainwright will get the start again and both players were successful against him in Game 1. Napoli was 1-for-3 with a bases-clearing double and Ortiz was 1-for-3 with a RBI.
If Farrell decides to base his first baseman on the Cardinals’ starters being right-handed, that will likely spell bad news for Napoli. He had a .248 average against righties this year, compared to .284 against lefties. 15 of his 23 homers this year, however, came against right-handers. Ortiz, meanwhile, has crushed righties this season, with a .339 average and 23 of his 30 homers. Against lefties, he hit just .260 with seven home runs.
Unsurprisingly, Farrell has decided to go with Ortiz in Game 3. Napoli will almost assuredly appear in a pinch-hitting role as some point, especially if there is a left-hander on the mound. As for what’s in store for Games 4 and 5, unless Ortiz looks completely overmatched tonight, and still then it would be a stretch, it’s hard to imagine him not in the lineup. He’s already 4-for-6 in the World Series, bringing his career World Series slash line to an impressive .382/.476/.765. Even Napoli’s .296/.417/.593 World Series numbers can’t match that.