Is Dodgers' offseason plan to reduce pressure actually working?
When the Los Angeles Dodgers opted to "re-tool" this offseason, in what was a clear effort to shed some payroll and prepare for the following November, there was also a belief among analysts and insiders that this was a ploy to dim the spotlight surrounding baseball's best team.
An historic 111-win season was flushed down the toilet after an NLDS exit. Trea Turner made a number of critical defensive miscues. Justin Turner wasn't his usual playoff self. Cody Bellinger's bat never came around. Joey Gallo was ... Joey Gallo. The pitching staff just didn't bring it.
That allowed all of the attention to shift to the San Diego Padres, who defeated LA in that series and went on to the NLCS. They beat the 100-win New York Mets along the way, too.
Additionally, LA knew that the following offseason would be a big one for San Diego. The Pads were getting Fernando Tatis Jr. back. They were going to be active in free agency because they had a decent amount of payroll flexibility, in addition to a number of salaries coming off the books.
And, if anybody knows AJ Preller, it was evident he wasn't going to lie down after an NLCS appearance, especially since the team had made it that far without Tatis.
Did the Dodgers' offseason plan actually work? Yes and ... no?
But look at the situation through this weekend's action. The Dodgers have the best record in the NL, while the Padres are floundering at 19-22 and well back of the NL West lead. LA is firmly back in the spotlight after the Braves were swept by the Blue Jays.
Perhaps Andrew Friedman and Co. weren't expecting their grand plan to materialize in the middle of May? This team was theoretically supposed to weather the 162-game storm, sneak into the postseason as a Wild Card team, and then make an "unexpected" run stamped with the underdog label.
Then, the inherent pressure of being in the postseason would've arrived to nobody's surprise, instead of it mounting all year as the wins and records piled up. This Dodgers team might not be setting records, but they're right back to their winning ways despite sporting rookies like Miguel Vargas and James Outman in the lineup.
And now you have the ringing Ken Rosenthal endorsement, which only further establishes the Dodgers as an elite force to be reckoned with. It all happened so fast. But is it a bad thing?
Last year, with guys like Trea Turner and Tyler Anderson hitting free agency, as well as Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, that only added to the sentiment that 2022 was a World Series-or-bust season. You don't want to have that sort of narrative surrounding your team in the media. Look how it's turned out for the Yankees over the last 20+ years.
This time around, the Dodgers don't have those massive offseason questions (outside of Julio Urías). You might consider Clayton Kershaw one, but he's made his intentions fairly clear, and it shouldn't be as stressful as it was the previous two seasons.
We'd definitely say this wasn't "the plan" for the Dodgers, but with a budding roster and a number of pieces returning from injury, that might make the pressure/expectations a bit easier to handle inside the clubhouse.
Plus, many would still argue the pressure remains on the Padres to dig themselves out of this disappointing start. Yeah, so, if the Dodgers' plan is "somewhat" working, then the Padres' plan is a "total" disaster. That works, too.