TORONTO -- Blake Snell showed why he deserves to be a top candidate for the American League Cy Young Award as the 2018 season comes to a close.
The 25-year-old left-hander held the Blue Jays scoreless, striking out 11, over 6 2/3 innings to temporarily stave off elimination for the Rays and record his 21st win of the season in a 5-2 victory over Toronto at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
"I think he's pretty much cemented his case that he belongs not just in the conversation, but right at the top of the list," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Snell has been one of the breakout stars of 2018. He posted a 4.04 ERA in 2017 and struggled with his command for much of the year, but this season has been a completely different story. Coming into Sunday, he had dropped his walks per nine from 4.1 to 3.1 and lowered his WHIP by 0.36.
Snell's 1.90 ERA and 21 wins lead the AL. Coming into Sunday, he ranked sixth in the AL in strikeouts per nine for qualified starters, with 10.65, and he trailed only Chris Sale in pitcher's WAR, according to Baseball Reference.
"If today wasn't a final nod, then I don't know what is," Kevin Kiermaier said. "The guy is just absolutely dominant."
Snell's AL Cy Young Award resume is only lacking innings pitched. He's only thrown 175 2/3 innings this season due to an extended period on the 10-day disabled list with left shoulder fatigue.
"He's at the mercy of me pulling him out of the games," Cash said. "So blame me if it's the 200-inning mark, if that's that big of a deal."
If he wins the AL Cy Young Award, he would become the first AL starter to capture the Award without logging 200 innings in a non-strike shortened season. Dennis Eckersley is the last AL pitcher of any kind to win the award without logging 200 innings in a non-strike shortened season. Clayton Kershaw took home the National League Cy Young award in 2014 with a 1.77 ERA in just 197 innings pitched.
Sale and Trevor Bauer are both considered AL Cy Young Award contenders, but neither will log 200 innings this season and Sale -- whose ERA sits at 2.00 -- may not qualify for the ERA title. Other candidates include Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber who have each logged 200 innings pitched this year and have posted ERAs sub-3.00.
"I'll think about [winning the Cy Young Award] after Saturday," Snell said. "Right now I'm just locked in."
Snell's 21st win broke David Price's team-record of 20 wins set in 2012. He was helped out by C.J. Cron and Brandon Lowe. Cron finished 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. In the eighth inning, he took a low fastball over the left-center field wall for his 28th home run of the season. After Joey Wendle walked in the next at-bat, Lowe homered to right field to give the Rays a 5-0 lead.
"You just get the sense that their guys pitch really tough," Cash said. "You want to get as many as you can because we saw it unfold two nights, three nights ago."
Andrew Kittredge got into trouble in the eighth inning when a pair of leadoff singles came around to score, pulling Toronto to within three. But Ryne Stanek came in to relieve Kittredge and got Randal Grichuk to pop out to finish the inning. Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless ninth inning to record his 23rd save of the season.
Blue Jays starter Ryan Borucki allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings pitched. He walked four and struck out seven.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tommy Pham advanced to second on a one-out bunt attempt from Matt Duffy in the sixth inning. It appeared Duffy was attempting to bunt for a single, but the play was ruled a sacrifice bunt. The curious bunt attempt paid off as Cron hit a ground-rule double in the next at-bat that wouldn't have scored Pham had he stayed on first.
"He was trying to bunt for a single," Cash said. "With the lefty on the mound and their first baseman holding the guy on, I think he saw an open lane and just didn't quite get it hard enough."
Pham went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs scored. He has now reached base in 25 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the AL.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kiermaier made a pair of stellar catches. He snagged a low liner from Jonathan Davis just before it hit the turf to end the third inning. The catch was scored a 4 star catch by Statcast™. An inning later, he sprinted hard into the right-center field wall to track down a deep flyball from Grichuk. The play was scored a 5 star catch by Statcast™, but Kiermaier injured his left shoulder on the play and was later removed from the game.
"I'm used to it," Snell said, "I'm not surprised, he's that good, but it's huge, it helps me a lot, it gets me more locked in, more pumped up and I need it."
HE SAID IT
"No, when do they play? The Oakland Raiders?" -- Cash, when asked if he'll be watching the A's Sunday afternoon
Oakland can clinch the second AL Wild Card spot and eliminate the Rays with a win over the Twins.
Diego Castillo (3.25, 3-2) will open for the Rays in the first of four games against the Yankees starting at 7:10 p.m. ET Monday. Castillo has posted a 3.00 ERA in 10 opportunities as the Rays opener this year. He's allowed three runs over seven innings pitched against the Yankees this season. New York's starter is yet to be announced.