On Wednesday — hours before the team suffered its second-straight loss overall and fifth-straight this season to the Blue Jays — the Braves 2021 season took yet another hit as Chase reported that right-handed starting pitcher Mike Soroka will likely miss the entire year as he undergoes exploratory surgery on his Achilles tendon, an injury he sustained during the 2020 campaign and an ailment that evidently has caused him some discomfort over the last week.
Soroka had some discomfort in his Achilles. They did a MRI and he'll now have to undergo exploratory surgery.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) May 12, 2021
The news is certainly a downer, especially considering Braves Country was under the impression that Soroka’s return was finally becoming a possible reality; before yesterday’s news, the 23-year-old Canadian was expected back at some point in June.
But instead, Atlanta is forced to piece together what’s currently a lacking starting rotation. Despite the surprising excellence of 22-year-old Huascar Ynoa, the Braves entered Wednesday’s game versus the Blue Jays with the fourth-worst starting staff in the majors (according to FanGraphs WAR), and the rotation’s 4.55 ERA ranked just outside of the bottom-five.
Sure, Ynoa and even Ian Anderson have managed to shine as bright spots this season, already tallying 1.4 fWAR combined, but two arms can’t carry an entire pitching staff, even though right now that’s exactly what’s happened (at least until Max Fried works himself into midseason form); the other five Braves starters combined have mustered just -0.5 WAR, with Charlie Morton and Fried the only other two at or above replacement-level.
But perhaps the worst part of Wednesday’s update regarding Soroka, other than the obvious negative impact towards Atlanta’s starting pitching, is how bad this hurts the kid’s career and the current stigma that he’s just simply too injury prone. I mean, chances are, Soroka won’t pitch at all in 2021, which means it’s very likely he’ll enter next year having only logged 214 innings over the last three seasons combined (or 37 starts) — a three-year average of just 72 per season, and a figure that will only fuel the fire when it comes to Soroka’s naysayers.
Of course, all of this could simply be a combination of misfortune and bad timing, and a year from now, Soroka could begin a ten-year streak of perfect health, never looking back. But as bad as I hate to say it, I don’t believe that’s the case.
Talent-wise, Soroka is a world-class pitcher, but until he can complete consecutive seasons without missing major time, I’m not sure it’s wise for the Braves to continue counting on him to be the team’s annual ace. I’m not saying the team should give up on him (hell no!), but when it comes time to evaluate the club during the offseason, perhaps it’s time to approach the rotation as if he’s not there. Because so far — save for 2019 — that’s primarily been the case.