Blake Snell, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays until only recently, initially was thankful the Boston Red Sox tradedMookie Betts away from his division last year. He brought that up on Wednesday, his first official day as a member of the San Diego Padres, and the irony of being placed in Betts' division while acting as a central character in the sport's most anticipated rivalry.
"I'm taking my thank you back," Snell said. "I'm not thanking Boston anymore."
Betts, the ignitor for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that won 72% of its regular-season games and a World Series title last year, has a new challenger in the Padres.
Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, was a key element of a dizzying offseason that saw Padres general manager A.J. Preller add starter Yu Darvish and infielder Ha-seong Kim, among several others, to a young, ascending group. The Dodgers countered by signing Trevor Bauer and bringing back Justin Turner, fortifying a group that PECOTA projects to win a major league-best 103 games in 2021.
"The Padres, they started quick," Snell said of an offseason in which Preller added as many as seven difference-making players. "We threw some haymakers quick. And then the Dodgers, they followed with some big haymakers as well. It's exciting. It's what baseball should be about -- make the best team you can possibly make and doing everything you can to win, and I feel like both the teams are doing so. It's gonna be very exciting. It's gonna be a fun series that everyone around the world is gonna wanna watch. That's what it's about."
The Dodgers have won eight consecutive National League West titles, but the Padres snapped a 13-year playoff drought last season with an exciting nucleus headlined by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado -- only to get swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their head-to-head matchups took on a renewed level of intensity, highlighted by Trent Grisham demonstratively celebrating a homer off Clayton Kershaw in September and Cody Bellinger robbing Tatis of a potential game-winning home run in October.
"That team is gonna do a lot of things to make me an even better pitcher," Snell said of the Dodgers. "I'm super excited that I get to pitch against them. Hopefully I get to pitch against them every time we play them. It's something I look forward to, and I really can't wait for it. I'm definitely excited. I know how the rivalry's been. I know it's a little feisty lately, which I'm here for all of that. And I'm looking forward to being a part of it. And hopefully that puts us on the winning side more than that."
The last time Snell was on the mound, he was cruising against the Dodgers. It was Game 6 of the World Series, the Rays led by a run and Snell had allowed one baserunner through five innings. Then he gave up a one-out single in the sixth, the top of the Dodgers' lineup was due up a third time, and Rays manager Kevin Cash removed him from the game, helping propel the Dodgers to victory.
It was a widely criticized decision, but it also was in line with the way the Rays typically use their starters. With the Padres, Snell is hoping to consistently earn the opportunity to pitch deeper into games -- a conversation he has had with manager Jayce Tingler and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"It's all about just what it's gonna do for me internally," Snell said. "I wanna see what's inside of me, and the only way to really see that is to go deep into games when you have to battle some things and try to be great doing so. I think that's what I'm most excited about is I can really find out what's inside of me.
"That's really what I'm looking forward to most. I feel like that'll tell me a lot, and I'll learn a lot from that and I'll be able to really grow from those experiences. It's something I can't really put a finger on, but it's something that I know once I go deeper into ballgames I'll become a lot better at being a complete starting pitcher."
San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell 'super excited' to face rival Los Angeles Dodgers, pitch deeper in games