Braves: The answer to replacing Mike Soroka will have to come internally

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The sickening news was confirmed following Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Mets: Mike Soroka is done for the year with a torn Achilles. Not only is that devastating to the Braves chances at making a run to the World Series, but it’s also the type of injury that can ruin an athlete’s career. Luckily, Soroka is still so young (his birthday is actually today, as he turns 23), and his body is in fantastic shape, but few can fully grasp the agony of trying to make a comeback from a 10-12 month setback. However, based on his career thus far, my bet is on Soroka making a full recovery and returning to the top of the Braves rotation quicker than most.

As far as this season goes, however, there is no replacing Mike Soroka. I’ve seen several people suggest that AA start ringing the phones of every GM in the league in search of starting pitching help. I’m sure Anthopoulos is already fully entrenched in that process as I type this, but as our own Clint Manry pointed out over the weekend, acquiring high-quality rotation help at any junction this season is going to be extremely difficult.

Only a few teams will give up before the August 31st trade deadline, considering it is a 60-game schedule with a 16-team expanded playoff format, which allows everyone to feel like they have a chance at a postseason berth, even bottom-feeders like the Tigers and Marlins.

There is also no minor league season, which makes evaluating prospects and their worth especially challenging. Teams with deep farm systems probably won’t want to give up their top prospects for a month of a player in a year with an expanded playoff format while teams looking to build their farm system could be expecting better offers because prospects will have missed an entire year of development time. Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged these challenges to the media just a few minutes ago. 

It’s likely that Anthopoulos eventually makes a move to strengthen this rotation, but there won’t be any arms in the same stratosphere — in terms of talent — as Mike Soroka available. The trade market can help ease some of the pain of losing the Maple Maddux. However, the answer to surviving such a cataclysmic blow must come from the inside.

Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, and Bryse Wilson

Toussaint took the place of Mike Foltynewicz and made his first start on Saturday, finishing with a line of 4 innings pitched, 0 earned runs, 3 hits, 3 walks, and 5 strikeouts. It was far from perfect, but his talent is undeniable, and it was definitely an outing to build off of.

Wright made his second start of the season the next day and did not give up a run over 3.1 innings pitched. He did allow nine baserunners, however, and the walks continue to be a concern. But like Toussaint, Wright has the talent to do anything he wants in this league; he just needs to trust his stuff. If Wright can cut down on the walks, the success will come. But we’ve seen time and time again over this rebuild that many talented pitchers can’t get over that final hurdle.

Wilson has yet to make an appearance for the Braves this season, and in his brief stints in the bigs over the last two years, he hasn’t looked anywhere near ready. His fastball is a plus pitch, but that can only take a pitcher so far at major league level. Until his secondary stuff improves substantially, it will be challenging for him to succeed as a starter.

Tucker Davidson, Ian Anderson, and Patrick Weigel

If the Braves are going to contend come the postseason (as impossible as that may seem after Soroka’s injury), the likes of Jhoulys Chacin, Josh Tomlin, and Chris Rusin are not the answer. They need to allow some of these high-powered young guns to make an impact. I’m not sure if Davidson or Anderson is ready, but if one of them proves to be, they could add some real juice and potential to the rotation. And even if they aren’t, giving them a chance at the top level to develop in a year with no minor league season should serve as a valuable learning experience. Of course, there’s always the off-chance that they struggle and are never able to fully-recover mentally, but that might be a risk worth taking in this shortened season.

Mike Foltynewicz

It’s crazy how life works sometimes. A week ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mike Foltynewicz had pitched his last game in a Braves uniform. But after none of the 29 other teams claimed him on waivers, he was outrighted to Gwinnett. Now, he might be needed much sooner than anyone could have expected. Folty still must show increased velocity for the Braves to turn to him again, but if he can do that, he will be among the team’s best options.

The Bullpen

If the Braves cannot find reliable production amongst their young arms, they will need to turn to a more unconventional pitching style. However, it’s something we’ve seen work in recent years with other teams. So far this season, few bullpens have been as dominant as the Braves. Entering last night’s game, they had a 3.07 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 10.64 K/9, and 2.05 BB/9 in 44 innings.

And Will Smith — Atlanta’s high-priced acquisition this past offseason — has yet to return from his COVID-19 hiatus, which is expected to happen by the end of this week. Brian Snitker’s best option might be to utilize his bullpen for a full nine innings — at least once every five days — until they can find more stability in their rotation.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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