Playoff Atmosphere and Awards Chatter As Snell, Rays Defeat Indians

Rays aren’t out of it yet, and Blake Snell makes his Cy Young case

Blake Snell has pitched his way into a crowded Cy Young Award field in the American League. In some years, the performance he’s put together thus far would make him a clear frontrunner for the award, but this year is a bit different. The awards races are crowded, not just with big names but with players having eye-popping seasons. Blake Snell is having a Cy Young-worthy year, but he’s one among many.

The Rays’ best starter—at times this season their only starter—has been excellent all season, particularly at home. On Wednesday afternoon, in a getaway day situation against the Cleveland Indians, Snell showed his might. The tall lefty took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, looking unhittable until Jose Ramirez took a pitch over the left field wall to put the Indians on the board. In all, the Rays’ ace went seven innings, giving up just the one hit, striking out nine, and walking off the mound with a 3-1 lead.

“I can’t lie, I was okay with the hit coming, because I don’t know,” said Kevin Cash after the game. “[H]e wasn’t going to get to that 140 pitches. As bad as everybody else would want him to, it just wasn’t going to happen. Kyle [Snyder] would have beat me down, he would have made me go out there.”

That home run was the only hit the Tampa Bay Rays would allow on Wednesday afternoon, their second one-hitter of the 2018 season. They are two wins away from clinching a winning season, but the team wants more. Tampa Bay is on the far periphery of the AL Wild Card race, but every day they win and are not eliminated is another day closer to turning that around. Any remaining hope is wrapped up in sweeping Oakland this weekend and getting some help, but the win on Wednesday gives them just enough believability to give the weekend a postseason atmosphere.

The Choi of homers

Ji-Man Choi continued mashing for the Rays, hitting a two run home run in the first inning to put the Rays out to an early lead that seemed insurmountable with Snell on the hill. The Rays had their hands full, facing Indians’ starter Carlos Carrasco in one of the finest pitching matchups Tropicana Field has seen all season, but they had a much stronger approach at the plate than in the first two games against Cleveland. Whereas Tampa Bay struck out 29 times in those first two games, the Rays showed much more patience and discipline on Wednesday afternoon, making a point to introduce baseball to bat.

The win gives the Rays a 4-2 win in the season series with Cleveland, one of the AL’s best teams.

What’s next for Rays

The Rays spend an off day at home before a weekend series that also happens to be the biggest series of Tampa Bay’s season. The Oakland Athletics are coming into town, currently firmly in charge of the second American League Wild Card spot. The Rays’ slim playoff hopes hinge entirely on a sweep of the A’s over the weekend at the Trop.

To do that, Tampa Bay will have to display the effectiveness of the Opener and Headliner strategy. Snell having pitched Wednesday, and Glasnow on Tuesday, the Rays will be heavily reliant on that strategy as well as their bullpen to get them through.

For anyone still looking for the Rays to make a run at the American League postseason, only a sweep will do. Even then, Tampa Bay will need a healthy amount of luck if they are to somehow pass Oakland in the standings. Nevertheless, the Rays are on pace to pass the 90 win mark this season and, much to the surprise of a lot of fans, are playing relevant baseball well into September. That in and of itself is a success.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.