In 2022, the Los Angeles Dodgers put together a well-oiled machine, racking up 111 wins just one year after they finished second in the NL West to the one-time-only juggernaut San Francisco Giants, who piled up 107 victories to LA's 106 in 2021.
In both 2021 and 2022, the resulting postseason outcome proved beyond a doubt that regular-season wins are nice, but don't tell nearly the full story of a given campaign. The 2021 NLDS went to the playoff-tested Dodgers, while Logan Webb and Co. were left shellshocked. The next fall, the Padres flipped the script in the Division Series allllll the way from 22 games behind Los Angeles in the NL West standings.
Entering 2023, the consensus has shifted entirely. The baseball world seems unified around the idea that Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will lead the way in the division, while the Dodgers, busy resetting for Shohei Ohtani (and, shh, Juan Soto) will be content to let the kids play (and finish second in the West).
Picking the Padres to sneak past the Dodgers in a short postseason series? Makes perfect sense, at this juncture. They have the star power advantage and the momentum. But confidently stating the Padres will flip the division? Andy McCullough's Athletic mailbag, published Wednesday, illuminated the disparity and stopped some of the discourse in its tracks.
Yes, the Padres appear better than the Dodgers on paper for the first time in forever. But were their flashy moves really enough to knock down LA's foundation and make up a remarkable 22-win gap between the two teams from 2022? 22's an awful lot.
And yet ... FanGraphs believes it's more than possible.
Can Padres make up 22 full wins on Los Angeles Dodgers in 2023 NL West race?
FanGraphs' current projections have the Padres finishing with a .552 winning percentage next season, good for fourth-best in baseball. The Dodgers? .522.
In terms of WAR, FanGraphs' staff expects the Padres to rack up the second-most in MLB (52.0), while projecting Miguel Vargas, James Outman and the Dodgers to reach 47.6 (eighth). Both teams' pitching staffs, fittingly, project to be nearly even (16.6 WAR for the Padres vs. 16.0 for the Dodgers).
A pitch-perfect outcome for the Padres involves Tatis Jr. returning to 40-homer status, Bogaerts battling back against his own declining exit velocities to find Petco Park's sizable gaps, and somebody -- anybody -- filling Ha-seong Kim's shoes after he's (likely) traded in the coming weeks. Add a full season of Soto, and this should not be anywhere close to an 89-win team.
That said ... Tatis was supposed to be around last year, too, wasn't he? Soto was supposed to instantly spark San Diego to vaunted status, and during an endless second half, he simply couldn't do it. The Padres had the best offseason possible, while the Dodgers have chosen to trust their system and assume 10-15 fewer regular-season wins won't matter when October arrives.
The Padres should have a flashier 2023, but it'll take a best-case scenario for them to flip the West as emphatically as most projection systems believe they will.