NL West Preview: Padres eager to take title from Dodgers
By BERNIE WILSON
The San Diego Padres sure don't feel like little brother anymore to the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers.
Buoyed by a stunning victory against the 111-win Dodgers in the NL Division Series and owner Peter Seidler's fearless offseason spending, the Padres are poised to make a run at the NL West title as well as a World Series crown that has always been out of reach.
The Padres will begin the most-anticipated season in their mostly sad-sack history with a lineup featuring Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts and Manny Machado. On April 20, manager Bob Melvin will begin writing a fourth superstar into the lineup when Fernando Tatis Jr. is eligible to return from an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Shockingly, the Padres will have a bigger payroll than the Dodgers, who have won nine of the last 10 NL West titles. San Diego's projected payroll of $255 million will rank third behind only the New York Mets and Yankees.
Seidler - a third-generation member of the O'Malley family that used to own the Dodgers - authorized general manager A.J. Preller to sign Machado to a new $350 million, 11-year contract; Bogaerts to a $280 million, 11-year free agent deal; and ace Yu Darvish to a new $108 million, six-year contract.
The Dodgers sat out the free agent frenzy while losing All-Star Trea Turner and letting stalwarts Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner go. Additionally, they have some key injuries going into opening day.
The turning point in what had been a one-sided rivalry came on a rainy October Saturday night when Petco Park shook as the Padres rallied to beat the Dodgers 5-3 and win the NLDS in four games. The Padres lost the NLCS to Philadelphia in five games.
“All the excitement that you feel as a kid about your hometown team, beating the rival and going to the playoffs, all of those things I got to kind of live firsthand for my hometown team," said right-hander Joe Musgrove, who started the clincher against the Dodgers as well as the wild-card series clincher against the 101-win New York Mets.
The Padres haven't won the NL West since 2006 and haven't been to the World Series since being swept by the New York Yankees in 1998.
The Dodgers won't let the division title go willingly.
“It is a good division. It has been for a number of years," said left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who's heading into his 16th season. "The Diamondbacks have gotten better. Their rotation’s good. They’ve got some guys who can really hit. The Giants as well, but obviously the Padres. They beat us last year in the playoffs. They have a good team. We like our chances, though.”
HOW THEY PROJECT
1. San Diego Padres: With Bogaerts playing shortstop, Tatis, an All-Star at shortstop in 2021, will move to right field when he returns and Soto will play left field. Shortly after beginning his suspension, Tatis had surgery on his troublesome left shoulder as well as a follow-up procedure on his left wrist, which he broke in a motorbike accident in December 2021. Blake Snell was tabbed to start opening day after Darvish made only three appearances in Japan's run to the World Baseball Classic title and Musgrove broke his big left toe when he dropped a kettlebell on it.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers will start the season with some notable injuries. SS Gavin Lux (torn right ACL) is out for the year. All-Star RHP Tony Gonsolin (16-1, 2.14 ERA, 199 Ks, all career bests) is on the 15-day injured list with a sprained left ankle. RHP Blake Treinen is on the 60-day IL recovering from right shoulder surgery. RHP Daniel Hudson (torn left ACL) is making progress. All-Star RHP Walker Buehler (Tommy John surgery) could possibly return late in the season. The team lost a big bat when Turner signed with Philadelphia.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks appear to be on the upswing but will need a lot of improvement and a little luck to catch the free-spending Padres and Dodgers. They have a young, speedy outfield with Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy and a strong top of the rotation that includes Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Carroll has played just 32 games in the big leagues but the D-backs felt comfortable signing him to a $111 million, eight-year deal, and he’s among the betting favorites to win NL Rookie of the Year. First baseman Christian Walker anchors the lineup after hitting a career-high 36 homers and winning a Gold Glove. Depth is still an issue, particularly in the bullpen.
4. San Francisco Giants: The Giants had some mighty big whiffs during free agency, failing to land Northern California native Aaron Judge and then having a deal with Carlos Correa that fell apart over concerns with his physical. The Giants dropped by 26 wins from their surprising 107-win division title in 2021 and missed the playoffs last year. They are hoping that smaller additions like Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Taylor Rogers can get them back into playoff position.
5. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are counting on a return to form from Kris Bryant, who didn’t hit a homer at Coors Field in an injury-marred season. But the Rockies are dealing with a number of other injuries and will try to avoid their first 100-loss season. Their projection is 64 1/2 wins, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Second baseman Brendan Rodgers is expected to miss the bulk of the season after hurting his shoulder diving for a grounder in a spring game. Colorado outfielder Sean Bouchard also will miss significant time due to a biceps rupture. Relief pitcher Lucas Gilbreath underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the season. The team added Jurickson Profar late in spring training.
TWINS IN THE 'PEN
Twin brothers Taylor and Tyler Rogers are in the same bullpen and Giants manager Gabe Kapler already realizes it could get confusing. Taylor, the lefty, will be pitching alongside righty Tyler after Taylor signed a $33 million, three-year contract.
Kapler is used to calling Tyler Rogers “Rog,” but will change it up now out of necessity when both are around. “I’ll just say ‘Tay.’ Tyler Rogers calls Taylor Rogers Tay, so I just started calling him Tay,” Kapler said.
"Do I believe our parade is going to be on land or water or both?" Seidler said as spring training opened.
AP Sports Writers Beth Harris, David Brandt, Janie McCauley and Pat Graham, and AP freelancers Gary Schatz and Jack Thompson contributed to this report.
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Updated March 24, 2023