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It’s Soroka Sunday as Braves go for fifth straight series win

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Austin Voth and whichever Nationals relievers are left functioning stand in their way.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves churned through another overwhelming come-from-behind victory yesterday, bailing out another subpar pitching performance with relentless offense en route to forcing a Sunday afternoon rubber game at Nationals Park. With the Nationals using Joe Ross, who was at one time the scheduled starter for today’s game, to horrible effect (Ross allowed four runs to turn a 9-8 lead into a 12-9 deficit) last night, they’ll be turning to rookie Austin Voth in his 2019 debut to square off against fellow rookie Mike Soroka.

The Canadian right-hander finds himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory coming into his Sunday matinee outing. His last two starts have been arguably the worst of his brief major league career. Two weeks ago, he allowed five runs to the Pirates, only the second time that’s ever happened, and the first time that many earned runs were charged to his ledger. He followed that up with a three-run, six-inning performance against the Mets, one that doesn’t seem awful results-wise but came with a homer allowed and just a 2/1 K/BB ratio. The last two starts have seen Soroka post identical FIPs of 5.17; his previous high for FIP in a start was 4.34. It’s also only the second time in his career (and first in 2019) that Soroka has had two consecutive starts with Game Scores (v2) below 50: his second and third career starts in 2018 had marks of 33 and 40; his two most recent starts have marks of 30 and 49. In addition, he’s allowed homers in back-to-back starts for the first time in his career so far; literally half of his career homers yielded have come in his last seven innings of work. But hey, the Braves won both games anyway, which is very par for the team’s 2019 course.

On the year, Soroka still has sterling numbers, including a 48 ERA-, 72 FIP-, and 84 xFIP-, along with 2.0 fWAR and 2.9 RA9-WAR in fewer than 80 innings pitched. Only 24 starters so far in 2019 have more fWAR (and none have as few innings as Soroka); only 11 have more RA9-WAR.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to say much about Austin Voth. The rookie right-hander last appeared on prospect lists a couple of years ago, when he reached Triple-A as a 24-year-old with ERA estimators in the mid-3.00s. He never really improved from there, however, as he’s now pitched in parts of four seasons with Washington’s Triple-A affiliate without any real improvement to show for it. After a 3.15 / 3.53 / 3.55 pitching triple-slash back in 2016 at the level, he’s only managed a 4.40 / 3.75 / 4.46 line there in 2019, three years later. Voth did make his major league debut last year, making two starts and two relief appearances. His debut went terribly (shelled by the Mets), and he didn’t reappear until he was a September call-up two months later, where he pitched a scoreless frame against the Braves, had a five-inning scoreless one-hitter against the Mets, and then got shelled at Coors Field on the last day of the season.

Pitch-wise, Voth is kind of weird, which will perhaps be on display this afternoon. He has possibly the straightest fastball you’ll ever see, with essentially no horizontal movement and below-average velocity. He pairs that with a changeup which also manages to have no horizontal movement (so weird), along with a hard slider that has correspondingly little drop as a result, but also a sweepy curveball with exaggerated horizontal motion.

Soroka has never faced the Nationals before. As mentioned, Voth threw one inning last year against Atlanta, retiring Tyler Flowers, Dansby Swanson, and Rio Ruiz in order while down by two runs in a game where the Braves scored six runs in four frames against Max Scherzer.

Anyway, the real kicker in all of this is that unless Voth is a full-blown designated sacrificial lamb, he won’t last forever, which means Dave Martinez will once again have to turn to a cataclysmal bullpen that now ranks dead last in the majors in xFIP-. Fun times, unless you’re the Nationals, who now can’t even get back to .500 with a win this afternoon.

The Braves, meanwhile, are going for their fifth straight series win for a second time in 2019. With last night’s victory, they now have the fifth-best record in baseball and are contributing to a tumbleweed-esque playoff landscape where only one division currently has any team within five games of the division leader. Actually, that’s pretty remarkable: the NL Central is separated top-to-bottom by 5.5 games; the smallest division lead held by any other division leader is 5.5 games.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals

Sunday, June 23, 2019

1:35 pm EDT

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network

XM Radio: XM Streaming 841