Maybe it’s a good sign that this query holds varied answers. When you win 90 games and come oh-so-close to making the postseason, fans believe an encore performance can elevate the team to higher highs. The question is who needs to avoid lower lows to make 2019 a success. What Rays player has the most pressure to succeed? We ask the Roundtable.
It’s not who you’d think
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: The easy answer, as you’ll read below, is Kevin Kiermaier, who enters the third of his six-year, $53.5M deal without having done much. But I’m going with Blake Snell. (As I see, shout out Frank, you’ll also read below). He will have pressure to match (or improve on) last year’s remarkable numbers; pressure to maintain his status among, and to prevail when going against, the game’s elite starters; pressure to justify his stance in the contract standoff that left the Rays looking bad. And that’s not just from fans and local/national media but, knowing Blake, also from within.
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: How exactly does one follow up the kind of season left-hander Blake Snell had last season. Reigning Cy Young award winners typically experience at least a slight hangover the year after receiving the award. And one of the reasons the opener worked was because Snell was so dang solid every fifth day. If the season doesn’t start that way, it might put more on Snell’s shoulders. He’s a guy who expects the best out of himself anyway, so he’s already got to be asking himself what would be a fitting follow up to the Cy Young.
The man in centerfield
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: Kevin Kiermaier is making serious coin, enough to have to find a way to produce at the plate along with in the field. The rap on him is he can’t stay healthy, he can’t lead off, he can’t do this or that. A lot of can’ts for that kind of money. He has to produce this season or what’s the point?
Jose can you see?
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: The Rays have never been married to the idea of spending big on a closer or even designating a pitcher for the role. Yet some of their best seasons have been built on someone shutting the door in the ninth inning. Relief pitcher José Alvarado looks to be the primary fireman this year, and while much has been made of the opener, it won’t matter if your closer can’t deal with the pressure.
The greatest pressure comes from within
Frank Pastor, digital sports editor, @frankpastor66: From management’s perspective, oft-injured Kevin Kiermaier. From a fan’s view, motor-mouthed Tommy Pham. But the greatest pressure comes from within. And I’m guessing no player expects more from himself than Blake Snell. He’s said he doesn’t feel pressure to duplicate 2018’s Cy Young performance, but you can bet he’s holding himself to an even higher standard this season. The great ones always do.