MLBTampa Bay Rays

Rays’ Need Blake Snell To Be an Ace Tonight

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Tonight, it’s once again win-or-go-home for the Tampa Bay Rays, the American League’s top seed who face that implication for the third time this month. They are 2-0 so far, thanks to heroics from Michael Brosseau and Charlie Morton.

Tonight, they will face Tony Gonsolin, who hasn’t had his best stuff for the Dodgers this October, despite winning the Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year award. Gonsolin, who had a 2.41 ERA in the regular season, his 9.39 postseason ERA has been cause for some concern. In his only start this World Series, he went an inning and a third before Dave Roberts made the call to the Dodger bullpen. He is, however, due for a strong start. Opposing him? 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

In 2018, Snell broke out in major fashion. He got the winning decision in 21 games. The southpaw won an ERA title with a stellar 1.89 ERA and fanned 221 batters. He improved his BB per 9 by a full free pass. He had a 7.1 WAR and 217 ERA+. He beat out 2x Cy Young and former MVP Justin Verlander by 15 votes. One disparity though was his innings pitched. He was only the second non-relief pitcher to win a Cy Young while throwing less than 200 innings of work, the other being Clayton Kershaw who threw 198.1 in his Triple Crown and MVP season. Snell, finished a far cry from that, pitching under 181 innings of work. He was rewarded with a big (by Tampa Bay Rays standards) extension that offseason. He makes $10 a year, the second highest compensated player on the Rays.

In 2019, it went south for Blake who had major regression. He had a myriad of injuries, threw only 107 innings of work (with 147 Ks), and posted a mediocre 4.29 ERA. His WHIP ballooned (.974 in 2018 to 1.271 in 2019) and his BB rate raised. He struggled mightily commanding the strike zone and keeping the pitch count to a minimum.

In 2020, he topped out at his career averages. The southpaw posted a 3.24 ERA, a strong season, that is a mirrored reflection of his career 3.24 ERA. In 11 games though, he pitched only 50 regular season innings. He averaged less than five innings per start.

This postseason he was scintillating against Toronto, but gave up four earned runs in his one ALDS start. He’s returned to form, surrendering only three in his two starts. His World Series start was dominant, until it wasn’t. He went four hitless innings, before getting shelled in the fifth and not even completing five.

Tonight, the Rays can’t have his inconsistency. It’s all or nothing. He needs that slider to breakaway from the righties the way only his slider can. He needs to throw his curveball for strikes, not yank it in the dirt hoping they’ll chase. Solo homeruns don’t kill you, but being forced to throw a strike after two walks and giving up three run homeruns will. Command the strikezone, change the eye levels and constantly change the speed. Blake Snell has some of the filthiest stuff in baseball, he just doesn’t have the confidence. Tonight, the Rays need the confidence of a Cy Young award winner. They need the confidence of 1998 Roger Clemens Cy Young type pitcher, not the confidence of a 1982 Pete Vuckovich Cy Young type pitcher. They need Blake to step up and get it to Charlie Morton.

Charlie Morton in win or go home games? Undefeated and the most victories under the situation in baseball history, including Game 7 of this years’ ALCS. He closed out Game 7 against LA for a Houston victory in 2017. He has been there, he is confident in that environment, the Rays just need to pass the baton to him. What do the Rays need from Blake Snell tonight?

Limited walks, so it leads to a limited pitch count. Solo homeruns here and there won’t kill you, especially since the Gonsolin matchup favors the Tampa Bay offense more than a Kershaw or Buehler matchup does. This pitch count will lead him through at least six barring stressful pitches. Then you can pass it on to the dominant back-end of the stable. The Dodgers have seen Tampa Bay’s pen way too much, and the Rays have likely exposed the lesser relievers. Tonight, everything is on the shoulders of the 27-year-old Seattle native. Tonight is the test to see if Blake Snell is truly an ace.

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