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Snell's sensational '18 nets AL Cy Young Award

Lefty becomes second Rays pitcher to receive honor
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

In the end, Blake Snell's innings were enough. It was his dominance on the mound that mattered most.

That's what members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America revealed Wednesday when Snell was named the winner of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award, capping the Rays' third-year southpaw's breakout season. Snell beat out a star-studded field of finalists for the award, as former AL Cy Young Award-winner Justin Verlander finished second and two-time winner Corey Kluber finished third. The announcement was made on MLB Network.

In the end, Blake Snell's innings were enough. It was his dominance on the mound that mattered most.

That's what members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America revealed Wednesday when Snell was named the winner of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award, capping the Rays' third-year southpaw's breakout season. Snell beat out a star-studded field of finalists for the award, as former AL Cy Young Award-winner Justin Verlander finished second and two-time winner Corey Kluber finished third. The announcement was made on MLB Network.

:: AL Cy Young Award voting totals ::

"To win it, it feels really good," Snell said. "I don't think it's going to hit me until I'm by myself and no one else is here. I had a lot of help to really be as elite as I wanted to be. I had to put the work in to do it. It only makes me more hungry to see what I can do next."

Snell won a tight race to become the Rays' second AL Cy Young winner, joining David Price in 2012. He garnered 17 first place votes, 11 second-place votes and two third-place votes for 169 points. Verlander (154 points) got 13 first-place votes, 13 for seond place and three third-place votes. Kluber (71 points) earned only second- and third-place votes. Red Sox ace Chris Sale finished fourth and Astros righty Gerrit Cole placed fifth to round out the balloting.

"For me, just starting to be in that field, it feels amazing. It really does," Snell said. "But my mindset is so focused on what's next, what's better. I'm more excited to get better next year and to continue being with those names. They're the best in the game and I want to be there every year."

Snell, the first AL left-hander to win the award since Dallas Keuchel in '15, dominated over a season that put him in rarified air in terms of run prevention. The 25-year-old entered 2018 as the Rays' No. 2 starter and spent the campaign emerging as an ace, pacing qualified AL starters in wins (21), ERA (1.89) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.6) while striking out 221 across 180 2/3 innings pitched. Snell's 1.89 ERA marked the fifth lowest single-season mark for a left-hander since the mound was lowered in 1969, and it is third lowest by an AL starter since the designated hitter was implemented in 1973. It was the lowest mark by a qualified AL starter since Pedro Martinez pitched to a 1.74 ERA in 2000.

• All-time AL Cy Young Award winners

Video: Blake Snell on joining David Price in Rays history

Snell also led all qualified southpaw starters in batting average against (.176), opponent slugging (.277), winning percentage (.808) and WHIP (0.98). He also earned his first career All-Star nod.

Wednesday's announcement came a day after Snell earned the Warren Spahn Award, given annually to the game's best left-hander, and made good on a little-known prediction Snell made this spring.

It was before the Rays reported to their spring complex in February that Snell, who at the time was just 8-15 with a 3.83 career ERA across parts of two big league seasons, told Rays pitching coach Kyle Johnson and former teammate Chris Archer his goal for 2018: win the Cy Young.

"I told them, 'I don't care what anyone thinks, I'm just going to do it,'" Snell said. "That's a moment we can share forever now that it happened."

While Jacob deGrom's candidacy over in the National League fueled debate over the importance of wins -- a debate that ended with deGrom earning the award nearly unanimously -- Snell's appeared to be buoyed by his gaudy total of that traditional statistic. He is the Majors' only 20-game winner since 2016 and went 9-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final 11 starts of the season.

Video: Snell discusses his confidence going forward to 2019

Snell managed his incredible season in the ultra-competitive AL East, and he seemed to elevate his game against the game's best teams. Snell went 9-2 with a 2.00 ERA against the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, A's and Astros -- the AL's top scoring clubs and the five that qualified for the postseason.

If there was a case to be made against Snell, it lived in his workload. Snell's 180 2/3 innings pitched are the lowest ever for a 20-game winner and sit 33 1/3 innings behind Verlander, who finished 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA and an MLB-best 290 strikeouts over 34 starts. Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and struck out 222 in 215 innings, the most among AL hurlers.

Tweet from @MLB: The moment @snellzilla4 and his crew got the #CyYoung news. pic.twitter.com/iIukJZlHL5

Snell is largely not at fault for this discrepancy, which stems from the lefty's two trips to the disabled list and the Rays' organizational preference to avoid having starters pitch late in games. Snell was the only Rays pitcher to qualify for the ERA title. He threw 33 1/3 more innings than his next closest teammate, Ryan Yarbrough.

For large stretches, Snell served as the only traditional starter for a team whose lack of starting depth led to them to rely heavily on using "openers," relievers who throw an inning or two before piggybacking with others for matchup purposes. Snell averaged 5.8 innings per start, while Kluber averaged 6.5 and Verlander 6.3. Snell's innings total was the lowest for a Cy Young Award winner since David Cone threw 171 2/3 in the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Video: Feinsand on Snell being very deserving of Cy Young

"I would have been excited to see what an extra 30 innings look like," Snell said. "I thought I could've thrown more, honestly. Two-hundred innings, that has to happen next year. I finished the year the way I wanted, but I do want to go longer into games and make that a bigger point for next year. I'm excited to be able to do that and am excited for what this team can accomplish next year."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Blake Snell