ESPN projects massive wins dip for 2023 Dodgers

Division Series - San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One
Division Series - San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One / Harry How/GettyImages

"Play the kids? I wouldn't do that if I were you," says ESPN's prediction matrix to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 2023 season will be a year of transition for a Dodgers team that will say goodbye to stalwarts like Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner and Trea Turner, all while waiting out Blake Treinen's shoulder issue and Walker Buehler's Tommy John surgery.

There's a chance everything goes right, and top prospects Miguel Vargas and James Outman -- as well as budding star Gavin Lux -- are plug-and-play options who are able to keep the Dodgers atop the National League in a season where things look a bit different from the outset.

There's also a chance that some things go wrong. That's the chance that cold-blooded computers will spit out numbers in favor of the Padres, considering that objectively ... the Dodgers' roster isn't what it's been in recent seasons, while San Diego has temporarily won the "offseason crown" that used to reside in Los Angeles.

Only difference is, of course, that the Dodgers are used to winning the NL West during actual gameplay, too.

Per ESPN's projections (and writer Bradford Doolittle), that'll be a bit less likely than normal this time around, with the Padres pegged for 10 more wins than the Wild Card Dodgers.

Will 2023 Dodgers really win only 90 games?

"Wow, 90 wins! And we get valuable experience in a pennant race for our rookies?! Where do we sign up?" said every other non-Yankees-and-Mets MLB team.

Still, it's jarring to see the Dodgers intentionally duck below their typical spending thresholds, chase lower-tier options from JD Martinez to Jason Heyward, and turn the keys over to the next generation, just one season after their decade-long machine seemed to be running at its smoothest.

Sure, the Dodgers were always generationally good, but things hit another level in 2022's regular season, topping out at 111 wins. That was this franchise's highest height, topping 104 victories in 2017 and 106 in both 2019 and 2021, when Andrew Friedman's effortless monster somehow finished second to the San Francisco Giants, though not when it counted.

Now, the Dodgers seem likely to fall well short of that number in 2023 by design -- and nobody knows better than LA's braintrust that being a regular season behemoth doesn't always spell a long October.

Maybe the Padres will be the new victim of the recent phenomenon of big trees falling hard this fall.