With 30-plus games remaining in the 2023 Major League baseball season, each league’s MVP awards have been decided or dwindled to two candidates. Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels has all but wrapped up the American League honor. But the National League race is down to two of the sport's best players (Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. and Los Angeles Dodgers Freddie Freeman).
The NL Cy Young award, however, is a wide-open race. Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres is one of the leading contenders for the honor, but the team has wasted his outstanding season with disappointing, inconsistent play.
Snell came out of nowhere to become Cy Young Award contender
At the start of spring training, every MLB starting pitcher envisions himself performing to a level that is worthy of winning the Cy Young award for the coming season. This achievement is not new for Snell, as he won the trophy with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. He is nearing completion of another memorable campaign on the mound.
Heading into the regular season, many of the top television analysts thought the Padres starting rotation had the potential to be one of the best in baseball. Unfortunately, it crumbled down to the ground due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Their on-field production failed to match the potential on paper. Snell has been the lone bright spot every fifth day in an otherwise disappointing season.
Entering Friday's series opener in Milwaukee, he is 10-9 with a 2.73 ERA through 26 starts and has struck out 180 batters in 142.0 innings pitched. His home and road splits have been impressive: Snell is 8-5 with a 2.95 ERA in 14 home starts and 2-4 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 road starts. The month of July was his dominant month of the season. Snell went 4-1 with a 0.57 ERA in six starts.
He has been a source of reliability and performing at a level that could not come at a better time for him. Snell is eligible to become a free agent after the season, and he could become a hot commodity on the open market this winter.
Gary Sanchez: A catalyst for Blake Snell's dominance
The addition of Gary Sanchez behind home plate has aided the emergence of Snell on the mound. Their immediate connection brought out the best in him. The chemistry comes from their battles in the AL East, as Sanchez was successful in hitting (.286 BA with a 1.048 SLG) against Snell.
He has helped Snellzilla to work through past struggles in consistently throwing strikes. At times, it felt like he was trying to throw the perfect pitch, which led to long counts and short outings on the mound. But all that changed when the Friars claimed Sanchez off waivers to become their starting catcher.
Sanchez is best known for his power at the plate as he is hitting .214/.293/.488 with 16 homers and 41 RBI in 61 games this season. But his defensive skills and calling a game have been eye-opening. Sanchez has guided Snell to become more aggressive with pitch selection throughout each start. Repeatedly, he has contributed to the cause by blocking his sliders and curveballs thrown in the dirt.
Walks are not a pitcher's best friend
Snell may lead the NL in ERA, but his walk total (80) could cost him an opportunity to win this year's Cy Young award. He averages over three walks per start. Sanchez encourages Snell to attack the strike zone and stop nibbling the corners. For the most part, the game plan has silenced the bats of opposing teams. Thus, the results have been outstanding since the catcher's arrival in late May. But the amount of pitches thrown has limited Snell to pitch beyond the sixth inning once this season.
Often, history will repeat itself. Currently, Snell leads the NL in ERA, much like he did in 2018. What is the significance of that year? Well, Snell led the AL with a 1.89 ERA as he went on to win his first Cy Young award. The race to this year's award is wide open, and you never know how a baseball season is going to play out.
Sometimes, to win such a prestigious honor, it is all about the opportunity at hand. Snell has a good chance of winning his second Cy Young award and becoming the fifth Padre pitcher to achieve the honor (Randy Jones, Gaylord Perry, Mark Davis and Jake Peavy).
His dominance is more impressive due to the Friars' lack of success (61-67 record) this season. A potential Cy Young-winning season would have been more memorable if the Padres were battling for a postseason berth. In essence, Snell is having one of the best seasons of his career, and the Friars are wasting his effort.