Snell hopes last year was the start of something

by Gary Shelton on March 4, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Can Snell be as good as he was last year?/JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 4 a.m.

The first man on the moon got all the headlines. The second man? Well, he had it tougher.

The first time Columbus sailed the ocean blue was a nice trip. The second voyage was rougher.

The Godfather was a great movie. So was the Godfather II, but the first one is the one with all the killer lines.

And so it goes. Doing something impressive once is hard. Sequels are harder. Last year's fly ball becomes this year's double to right. Last year's strike-on-the-corner is this year's ball outside. Last year's bullpen hold becomes this year's blown save.

Just ask Blake Snell, who is set to conquer the world -- again -- this season. Last year was a bit of magic. This year? We'll see.

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He walks the same. He talks the same. He looks the same. But when the ball comes out of his hand, will it be the same?

Make no mistake. Last year, Snell was special. Coming from nowhere, he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA. He won the Cy Young Award. He had a 7.5 WAR. He made the all-star game. He went from a guy who had never won more than six games in a season to the best pitcher in the game.

And now?

You point him toward the mound again, and you step out of the way. If he asks for advice, you tell him "ditto." Because Snell, last year, was the best thing about the Tampa Bay Rays. Without him, they do not win 90. Without him, they are not as high as third place.

Oh, the Rays were an embraceable little team, and they overachieved. They beat a lot of teams who had more talent than they did. And you can go through the lineup and find players -- Willy Adames, Joey Wendle, Tommy Pham -- who need to be good again, too. You can find newcomers -- Avasail Garcia,  Yandy Diaz, Mike Zunino -- who need to take bold first steps.

But if you're asking how good the Rays will be, your first answer should be a question: how good will Snell be? Even if his won-loss isn't quite as good, can his impact be as great? Can he win his last nine decisions again?

Oh, if anything, the starting rotation will be better. The Rays have brought in Charlie Morton, who should take care of his turn most of the time.

But think about how few players win the Cy Young more than once. David Price didn't. Rick Porcello didn't. Dallas Keuchel didn't. Justin Verlander didn't. Felix Hernandez didn't. All of them were great pitchers, but it's a hard award to win once, let alone twice.

Two-time winners? Corey Kluber was one. Max Scherzer. Clayton Kershaw. Tim Lincecum. Johan Santana. Roy Halladay won one in each league. But we're a long way since Roger Clemons won his seven or Randy Johnson his five.

For Snell, the first requirement is health, of course. Last year, Snell won the Cy Young with only 180.2 innings pitched, which turned out to be his biggest obstacle. Snell still made 31 starts, but on a team that is quick to go to the bullpen, he had 11 starts of fewer than six innings.

The next requirement is support. The Rays simply don't have a lot of power returning to their order. Snell will have to win some close games.

The next requirement is the team's bullpen, which doesn't have a lot of saves on its resume. But the Rays have to win their matchup games most of the times that Snell pitches.

Next? How about defense? For years, it's been a hidden strength of the Rays. It would help if Gold Glove centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier can stay healthy.

There is control. Snell has never walked a lot of batters -- last year's 64 is his career high.

There is focus. Or you can call it hunger. Last year, the slow-talking Snell maintained his "the next game is all-important'' mantra throughout the season. Can he be that sharp again? We'll see.

The prevailing notion around here, of course, is that Snell arrived last year.  That happens. In 2015, Corey Kluber was 9-16. In the last three years, he's won 56 games. Also in 2015, Chris Sale was 13-11. He's won 46 games the last three years. In 1971, Nolan Ryan was 10-14. He won 62 games over the next three years.

Most pitchers are like that. They take a while to figure it out, and then take command.

We hope it will be so with Snell. No one wants to see a backward step. No one wants to see vulnerability.

We want to see Snell, again.

We want to see Snell, dominant.


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