The True Blue LA staff predictions for how we as a staff think that the Dodgers will do in 2023 are live. And the results are...oh my, I am the one who is forecasting a bear market, eh? I have also heard the predictions from the Three-Inning Save Podcast NL West Extravaganza (someone picked the Dodgers AND Padres to win over 100 games?!? — Good Lord, I just want to bottle that optimism and walk around on sunshine all day.) Before anyone asks whether I turned Eric or David into a newt (they got better, I promise), I figure I should explain where I am coming from.
Back on March 4, I wrote the following when discussing why the Dodgers probably should not try to trade for the Yankees’ shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa: “help is not likely to come to the
92-win 88-win 2023 Dodgers...I predict 88 wins, not as an insult, but as an honest expectation of where I see this season going. If you tell me that these Dodgers win anywhere from 85 to 92 games, in the end, I will believe you.” While this train of thought generated some discussion, I knew that I would have to revisit this line of thought at a later date, which has now arrived.
It is a shame, too, because originally I was working on a “The 2023 Dodgers will win the NL West essay” when that idea was derailed during the third game of spring training. So without further ado, let me take you on a tour of my reasoning for why I predict that the 2023 Dodgers will win 88 times.
Everything had to go right to take the NL West; it lasted exactly three days
In the now-aborted essay, the now-defunct conclusion would have been the following: The 2023 Dodgers can repeat as division champions, but this season they must walk upon a knife’s edge as they walk a narrow path to a division title. Initially, I thought that the Padres were going to have to deal with something that the Dodgers have generally become accustomed to: the weight of actual expectation.
As has been discussed elsewhere, the Padres have certainly left themselves no alternative but to win now. The Padres’ offseason spending will be discussed elsewhere on a later day. Regardless, while the Padres have assembled an impressive assortment of talent, I do not see a cohesive team...yet.
I see three shortstops in Bogaerts, Kim, and Tatis (once his suspension ends) and no true centerfielder. I question the wisdom of paying players big money into their early 40s. What happens the first time the Padres have a skid in the season, i.e. they have their own 5-15 stretch, and they have to deal with the expectation of how good their roster should be?
Plus, if I were being uncharitable, I could point out instances where the Padres collapsed like a poorly made soufflé when they had a semblance of expectation in 2015 and 2021. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out the ready counter-argument: they walloped The One-Win team in the NLDS. Everything is impossible until it is actually done.
In 2022, the Padres had a deep playoff run right in front of them but lost to a scrappy Phillies team, who handled the Padres so effortlessly that The One-Win Team somehow looked worse. For all of the above reasons, I was prepared to lay out a thought critique essay listing how the Dodgers had a narrow path forward.
Needless to say, that conclusion became moot real quick.
The Dodgers’ wafer-thin depth at the major league level
A lot of players left the Dodgers’ organization over the offseason. You could literally fill up a small bus with those who left. One could not be blamed if someone nicknamed the 2023 Dodgers: The Team of Misfit Toys. Oh my — note to self: I know what series I am likely making at the end of the year.
In order to compensate for all the players that went elsewhere in the offseason, including both Justin and Trea Turner, Tyler Anderson, Joey Gallo, Cody Bellinger, Tommy Kahnle (already injured), Andrew Heaney, Chris Martin, Craig Kimbrel (not all of the departures are bad, really), Jimmy Nelson (he came back and he’s injured again), Edwin Rios, Hanser Alberto, Kevin Pillar, and Danny Duffy (patron saint of Maytag Repairmen), the Dodgers decided on some rather unorthodox replacements, including Jason Heyward, Shelby Miller, Noah Syndergaard, Miguel Rojas, etc.
Some may perceive that I am criticizing Miguel Rojas, et al. I am not. For instance, Rojas, by all accounts, appears to be a decent man and a good teammate. His only sins are that he is certainly not Trea Turner, he is definitely not Corey Seager, and he is not Gavin Lux. And yet, he is a backup who has been pressed into regular duty. C’est la vie.
At the beginning of the offseason, one could see the logic of the Dodgers’ nickel-and-dime moves. The Dodgers clearly had a plan of resetting the luxury tax, which was not very realistic because it depended on either the league upholding the Trevor Bauer suspension in full (it did not) or the Dodgers letting everyone walk and shed additional payroll including Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy, or Chris Taylor (which was not happening).
Now, all the departures and all the replacement signings basically point to the same issue that will likely result in a runner-up finish in the division: the Dodgers have wafer-thin depth at certain key positions at the major league level.
In some very real respects, the 2023 Dodgers are going to go as far as Miguel Vargas and James Outman take them because they will be getting significant at-bats and the team does not have the depth to accommodate holes throughout the entire lineup. I am excited but I am mindful that if you have a plan that relies on a bunch of things happening just so on the first try, it feels like wish fulfillment.
I do not think you can understate how good The One-Win Team was in the regular season last year. That team had an ineffective Max Muncy (for a good part of the year until the backstep), Bellinger, Gallo, and Taylor who collectively had an average slash line of .197/.293/.385/.679 over 1,487 total at-bats (out of 5,526 total team at-bats, including that one at-bat Tyler Anderson had).
Roughly 27 percent of the time in 2022, the Dodgers basically had a below-average-not-quite-a-pitcher bat and they still won 111 games. In some respects, it is actually frightening to think of what the One-Win Team would have accomplished had it actually been firing on all cylinders throughout the year.
It is only a flesh wound
If somehow Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Julio Urías, or Will Smith go down for any length of time, the Dodgers’ season is certainly not matching the heights during the regular season last year. Yes, there are young arms waiting in the wings, but they are not banging on the door (apart from Ryan Pepiot, who is already injured, Michael Grove, and Andre Jackson, who is already in the bullpen). As previously stated, some of the young bats are already here.
If Outman/Trayce Thompson/David Peralta/Jason Heyward/Taylor/Rojas get injured or are otherwise ineffective, ask yourself a single question: who will replace them? In 2021, with all due respect, Dodger fans cringed at the likes of Steven Souza Jr., Andy Burns, and Billy McKinney having not insignificant playing time. The prospect of a cavalry consisting of either Steven Duggar, Yonny Hernandez, or Bradley Zimmer is enough to give one pause.
The injury bug has already gotten Lux and others. As of now, Tony Gonsolin and Daniel Hudson are likely out until late April/early May. Alex Reyes is likely out until after the All-Star Break. And Ryan “What are you doing to me?!?” Pepiot has opened the year on the injured list with no return date. If Gavin Stone makes his major league debut before the All-Star Break, something has gone terribly gone wrong.
The roster moves made thus far likely ensure that no help is coming from outside of the organization in the short term. However, if folks are waiting for the trade deadline in April, something has gone awry.
The schedule: the trade-off to playing at Fenway Park every other year
Another reason to point to for likely regression is the schedule. In 2022, The One-Win Team was almost historically good against its opponents in the NL West. Most fans have likely forgotten that the Dodgers had their worst intra-division record in 2022 against the now-lowly Colorado Rockies.
- vs. Arizona, 14-5 (.737)
- vs. Colorado, 11-8 (.579)
- vs. San Francisco, 15-4 (.789)
- vs. San Diego, 14-5 (.737)
With a return to a “balanced” schedule, the Dodgers lose a home-and-home series with each divisional rival. Of course, the trade-off is that the Dodgers will ultimately play in every major league ballpark every two years now and will play every other team in the majors every year.
By literal definition, the Dodgers will likely have a harder schedule sacrificing “free” wins against the Diamondbacks and Rockies for playing the rest of the league. Furthermore, the Dodgers are unlikely to go the equivalent of 29-9 (.763) combined against the Padres and Giants in the coming year as the Padres are likely to be better and the Giants are probably not going to be the pushover they were in 2022.
Life will surprise you
I am not expecting the Dodgers to be a bad team by any measure. If someone came from the future and told me that this incarnation of the Dodgers will win anywhere from 85 to 95 wins in 2023, I would accept that result without question. If that same hypothetical time traveler told me that these Dodgers won less than 85 wins in 2023, my first set of questions would be “who got hurt, and were Kershaw or Urías down for most of the year?”
I do not think that anyone is expecting or anticipating Vargas, Outman, Pepiot, Grove, Thompson, Taylor, Heyward, Dustin May, and Gonsolin to have career years. Now, stranger things have happened (the 2021 Giants say hello), but, more likely than not, not everyone that I listed is going to have a good year or an average year.
And that’s okay — that’s baseball.
Even with my prediction, I await the start of my travels, although buying tickets at Fenway Park physically hurt me due to the cost. If I have learned anything over the past three years is the following: the fact that we have any baseball at all is a gift and that gift should be savored and enjoyed. If something stops being fun, go do something else.
But now we get to see a story unfold over the next seven months. I can hardly wait.