When the San Diego Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays, they were hoping that he would be one of the final pieces in their pursuit of a championship. It was far from a small price to acquire the 2018 AL Cy Young award winner, sending four prospects to Tampa Bay in order to land the lefty, but it gave the Padres another top of the rotation starter. It wasn’t the only move they made to bolster the rotation, as they also added Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish in separate trades but neither possessed the accolades that Snell had.
With expectations high, it had been a very underwhelming season for Snell, who up to the start of August had a record of 4-4, while posting a 5.44 ERA across 84 1/3 innings and 19 starts. With an injury to superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. as well as the lack of pitching depth behind the trio of arms acquired in the offseason, the Padres began to faulter and risked dropping out of the NL Wildcard picture.
Then August rolled around, when the team has needed him the most, Snell has started to look like the pitcher he was back in 2018. While the overall team’s result hasn’t been ideal, they are 3-4 in his starts, Snell has been more than doing his own part.
The 28-year-old Snell has posted a 1.85 ERA since the start of August, striking out 65 batters in 43 2/3 innings. He has also held the opposing hitters to a .135 average and .460 OPS while 64% of his pitches have gone for strikes.
More than just his lights out numbers, Snell has taken control and become the workhorse down the stretch the Padres were hoping that he’d be when they traded for him. Even though the Padres have one of the best bullpens in the game (3.23 ERA, fourth best) they have also been one of the most overused. No NL bullpen has logged more innings this season than San Diego’s as their starters struggled to go deep into the game.
Snell was a part of this, as in his first 19 starts of the season he averaged just 84.2 pitches per start, and 18.98 per inning. His pitch count would get high and keep him pitching deep into the game, causing strain on the bullpen that you wouldn’t like to use when your best pitcher was on the mound.
Needing to give the bullpen some rest, Snell has taken it upon himself and has been pitching deeper into games at a rate he hasn’t his entire career. Snell has pitched seven or more innings in his career 18 times, five of which came with the Padres and four of them coming in the month of August or later. He’s made 26 starts with the Padres, and 108 with Tampa Bay.
San Diego is also giving him a bigger leash than earlier in the season, as Snell is averaging 105 pitches per start since August and has crossed the century mark in six of his last seven outings. He was tagged with the loss in his last outing, but Snell battled till the end. He was perfect through six innings but allowed back-to-back walks before Jo Adell singled in both base runners. San Diego’s offense was held scoreless and scattered only four hits in the 4-0 loss.
Trying to catch up to their divisional rival, Snell threw 122 pitches across 7 2/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a no-decision loss. Six days later Snell threw another 109 pitches, no-hitting the Arizona Diamondbacks over seven innings and striking out 10 batters.
Snell and the Padres are in a fight over the final Wildcard spot, as they are unlikely to catch the Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants. If the Padres are going to hold off the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, among others, they are going to need everyone doing their part as a collective unit.
While the numbers throughout the collective season haven’t been ideal, there is no doubting that Snell has been exactly who the Padres hoped he would be when they traded a good portion of the farm to get him, and any postseason success they have will be heavy reliant on his left arm.