Padres ready to shoulder high expectations in 2023

March 27th, 2023

The Padres won the offseason. The Padres won the World Series of good vibes.

They're also keenly aware of what those titles are worth.

"We've got to perform, right?" manager Bob Melvin said earlier this month. "The expectations are what they are because of what we've created here -- not only what we did last year, but the players that we've brought in."

Indeed, with Opening Day on the horizon, expectations in San Diego are as high as they've ever been. After the team's first trip to the NLCS in 24 years, the Padres believe they'll be even better in 2023.

They signed shortstop to an 11-year deal. After 20 games, they'll welcome back has re-upped through the 2033 season, solidifying his long-term future in San Diego.

The fanbase has responded in a major way, with the Padres having capped season-ticket sales, expected to shatter their attendance record.

"The city of San Diego, it's a definite baseball town," said general manager A.J. Preller. "They love this team, they love these players and they're really hungry to win. That's been the goal since we got here."

What needs to go right?
Health, of course. The Padres have built a finely tuned juggernaut. They've also given themselves a bit more cushion than they had last season by adding quality depth at a number of spots.

But if San Diego is going to reach its sky-high ceiling in 2023, it’s going to need some favorable health at a couple key positions -- namely, in the rotation and behind the plate.

The Padres’ six-man rotation has question marks, beginning with a back-end of , and . The group of Minor League depth starters is entirely unproven as well.

At catcher, meanwhile, the team is counting on taking the next step and earning a timeshare with starter Austin Nola.

Great unknown
Is it fair to call Tatis an "unknown?" We know precisely what he's capable of. When he's on the field, the 24-year-old is among the small handful of baseball’s bona fide superstars.

But it's fair to ask what exactly the Padres will get from Tatis in 2023. On April 20, when he is slated to return from his PED suspension, Tatis will play his first game for the club in 564 days. In the interim, he has garnered all manner of unwanted headlines.

Tatis has also undergone a trio of surgeries -- two on his left wrist and one on his left shoulder. There’s no telling how his body will hold up, though he’s shaken off some rust this spring and looks comfortable at the plate.

No one doubts what a healthy Tatis is capable of. In 273 career big league games, he's posted a .965 OPS, won two Silver Sluggers and twice finished top five in National League MVP voting. But it's the 273 games played -- out of a potential 546 -- that's been the issue.

Team MVP will be ...
More than a few candidates here. Heck, the Friars seemingly boast three or four MVP favorites in the entire NL.

But watch out for Soto, who now has an offseason as a Padre under his belt. He began to show signs of life in the postseason, and he's raked all spring in the Cactus League and at the World Baseball Classic.

When Soto's locked in, there's not another hitter on the planet who can do the things he does, combining truly elite power with perhaps the best plate discipline in the sport. And guess what? Soto appears to be locked in, comfortable in his new environs.

Team Cy Young will be ...
Again, just a loaded group of choices here. and recently inked extensions to remain in San Diego long-term. They've anchored this staff for the past two seasons, while Snell has dealt with inconsistency.

But Snell's raw stuff is the best on staff. A former Cy Young Award winner, Snell posted a 2.19 ERA in the second half last season. He's slated to become a free agent this winter, and if he can build on his strong finish to 2022, he might line himself up for a nice payday -- perhaps after a deep run into October.

“You saw the way he finished up last year, the second half,” Melvin said. “He’s come into this spring looking to put together a very good season from the beginning.”

Bold prediction: The Padres will win the West
You might not consider this a bold prediction -- and the sport's projection systems would agree with you. FanGraphs pegs San Diego as the top team in the division, projected for 91 wins, four games ahead of Los Angeles.

Still, the Padres have finished behind the Dodgers in each of the past dozen years -- an average of 20.4 games behind their rivals in that span. That gap feels as though it has closed, and San Diego's NLDS victory last season turned the rivalry on its head.

"We had a great year last year, finishing in a spot where we feel like there’s more on our plate," Melvin said.

Since then, the Padres have added Bogaerts, welcomed back Tatis and improved the fringes of their roster. If there were ever a team capable of dethroning the Dodgers and making a deep run into October, it’s this one.