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Road Warrior Soroka will get a chance to prove himself in October

Mike Soroka has pitched better on the road than at home this season, and the Braves are betting on that being the case in the postseason. Oh, what a rush.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Mike Soroka will be getting his final start of the regular season on Sunday’s regular season finale as the Braves visit Citi Field for the final time this year. Since the Braves have already clinched the division and are also basically secure in their spot of being the second seed in the National League, these last few games are basically fall training and both the number of pitches that Soroka will be pitching and Soroka’s mere presence on the mound on Sunday is proof that they are already getting preparations underway for the NLDS.

For starters, Soroka will be on a pitch count of around 65-to-70 pitches. Mark Bowman is also convinced that this is going to result in Soroka getting the start for Game 3. The Braves have played well enough to where they have upgraded from simply living the suite life of postseason baseball by starting out on the road in 2018 to now living in the penthouse of hosting the first two games of the 2019 Divisional Series. So basically, that means Mike Soroka will be making his first career postseason start on the road.

Looking at the statistical leaderboards for this season, this seems like a bit of a head-scratcher on the surface of things. Mike Soroka is the leader in fWAR among Braves pitchers and it’s not even particularly close — he’ll be going into Sunday with 4.0 fWAR under his belt for the season and the runner-up was Max Fried with 2.9 fWAR. That’s miles ahead of Dallas Keuchel (1.0) and Mike Foltynewicz (0.9), who are probably going to start the first two home games of the series for the Braves.

So, what gives? Why isn’t there a mass group of Braves fans raising a stink over the best pitcher in the rotation throughout this season being “relegated” to potentially pitching only the third game of the series? It’s an especially interesting decision when you consider that even if Mike Soroka has been the top dog in the rotation, he’s still a rookie and the postseason is a completely different animal when compared to the regular season — especially when it comes to playing on the road. It’s a new frontier that Soroka has yet to explore.

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
Mike Soroka has been very comfortable when pitching while wearing a road gray jersey this season.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Yet, it appears that the Braves are ready to give Soroka the compass so that he can navigate his way through his first postseason game on the road. They have good reason to do so, as a look at his home/away splits will tell a very interesting story. The Braves have been the best road team in the National League his season and Mike Soroka’s performances away from Sunrust Park have reflected that. He’s sitting on an ERA/FIP of 1.35 (!!!) and 3.06 on the road, when compared to a 4.14/3.90 ERA/FIP at home. There could be a bit of luck involved, and the gap between the ERA and FIP seems to suggest that Soroka has had a lot of things outside of his control go his way on the road. Also, a .235 BABIP seems to be a little on the low side and is a big reason why his overall BABIP is currently at .247 for the season.

It’s also interesting to see that Soroka’s peripherals aren’t too much different from each other. There isn’t a huge gap between his strikeout rates and walk rates in his home/away splits, but there are two stats that have a bit of a gap between them: His HR/9 rate and his LOB rate. Outside of Cobb County, he’s kept it in the ballpark with a 0.38 HR/9 rate and he’s left runners stranded 86.5 percent of the time on the road. Compare that to his HR/9 rate of 1.07 and his LOB rate of 73.8 percent at home and it’s like night and day.

There’s no guarantee that these stats are going to hold up when the intensity gets turned up a notch in October. However, I understand if the Braves are willing to take the chance and put their best pitcher out there in a situation where he has consistently succeeded. As much as there is a very interesting gap between Mike Soroka’s stats at home and on the road, it’s also important to note that by the time he’s done on Sunday, hopefully he will have thrown at least 20 more innings on the road than at home. There’s a possibility that for this year, Soroka is just at his best when he’s pitching anywhere except for SunTrust Park and the Braves are willing to at least put one postseason road game on the line to see if his excellence away from home will help contribute to what will hopefully be great playoff win on the road.

Also, the Braves have the luxury of doing this since they have options in their rotation. Dallas Keuchel has plenty of playoff experience under his belt and should hopefully provide a stabilizing presence for the Braves as they embark on another playoff adventure. Then there’s Mike Foltynewicz. Folty has looked more like his 2018 edition than what he looked like before taking a trip down to the minors. Since returning from his stint with the Stripers, Folty has an ERA of 2.35 and a FIP of 3.46 — which is right in line with his 2.85 ERA and 3.37 FIP from 2018. If that version of Folty is coming into the playoffs, then the Braves can absolutely afford to mess around with their rotation a bit and play the splits game when it comes to Mike Soroka.

Toronto Blue Jays v Atlanta Braves
Mike Foltynewicz has looked more like himself since returning to the bigs
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Pushing Mike Soroka back to Game 3 is still a move that on the surface would raise some eyebrows. Even if Soroka does keep his road performance at a high level, the Braves are still asking a lot from a rookie to make his postseason debut on the road. However, Mike Soroka has passed plenty of the tests that have been thrown at him at such an early stage of his career. If he passes this one with flying colors, then that would go a long way towards helping the Braves finally get back to the Championship Series and maybe even something more than that. The postseason is already interesting and we’ve still got a few days left to wait until it all gets rolling once again.

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