Warning: the opinion I am about to express cannot be measured. It feels, the kind we don’t talk about much in baseball anymore, a sport where every last move is measured and dissected. But the people in the game will tell you it’s true. And nearly a quarter of the way into the 2023 season, he’s highlighting the difference between the Dodgers and Padres.
What I’m talking about is more identity than chemistry, though chemistry is a part of it. The Dodgers own it, and it’s one of the reasons they won their 11th straight regular season series against the Padres this weekend, sweeping three games home to the Dodger. The Padres, for all the money they’ve spent, all the star power they’ve amassed, are more of a group of individuals than a cohesive unit.
Consider lists. Carefully if not perfectly built, the Dodgers are a team that includes 10 home-grown players, as well as three others who were part of multiple World Series teams in Los Angeles. There is a shared history among many of the players, familiarity with each other, and a culture of developing and winning that eases the transition for newcomers and helps them succeed.
The Padres, on the other hand, are a bunch of heavy, slapping imported superstars. None of their three players — relievers Steven Wilson and Tom Cosgrove and rookie left Ryan Weathers, who was called up to start Sunday — are particularly key players. Padres players can tell you how things were done at their previous organizations. But other than spending money and making daring deals, there are two admirable traits, for sure. What exactly is the Padres way?
I’m well aware that despite all the Dodgers’ regular season success in this rivalry, the Padres made their breakthrough at “Beat LA” in the Division Series last year, producing a landmark moment in franchise history. I’m also well aware that at some point this season, the Padres may eventually outpace the Dodgers and the rest of baseball with their estimated $249 million in salary, the third highest in the league (the Dodgers are fifth with $228 million).
The Padres quartet of Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. is something to behold. But their list, taken as a whole, is still deeply flawed. Catching them is a mess. Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter are pretty much restricted to DH duty. The bottom of the assortment offers a little bit of production. Jake Cronenworth’s offensive profile is acceptable at second base, but insufficient at first.
Then there is pitching.
The Padres rotation features only two trustworthy starters, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, both of whom are Ace-eligible. The game lacks depth without Robert Suarez, who has been sidelined with an elbow problem since signing a five-year, $46 million contract, and Drew Pomeranz, who is in the final year of a four-year, $34 million deal, yet only makes it through. 44 1/3 innings for San Diego, none since August 2021.
I know what Padres fans are thinking: effortlessly, AJ Preller will fix everything at the trade deadline. The problem is that the Padres’ farm system – ranked 23rd by baseball america and 24-in the athleteKeith Law – He is no longer the same, which limits Priller’s options.
Undaunted, Briller will likely engage in his annual ritual of sacrificing top prospects, with top-tier player Jackson Merrill the prime candidate who will dangle for Corbin Burns or whoever else the GM fancies. Preller’s only option is to keep mixing the pieces, keep putting in new ones, and keep on doing it. The Padres window with Soto, the Scott Boras client who turned down $440 million from the Nationals last season, numbers to only run through 2024, the year of his free agent.
There is no more accomplished executive in talent acquisition than Preller. Last season, the Padres advanced to the National League Championship Series. But Priller hasn’t yet proven that he can build a menu that’s balanced, functional, and—sorry Peter Seidler, here’s the word you hate—sustainable.
The Dodgers themselves are forever in flux; This is life for every team in every professional sport in the age of free agency. From last year’s 111-win team, the Dodgers lost Tria Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Tyler Anderson, then added JD Martinez, Jason Heyward, Miguel Rojas and David Peralta. Lest anyone forget, the team’s best players, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, came from other organizations. And his current star player, Julio Urías, could leave as a free agent at the end of the season.
Here’s the difference: The Dodgers refrained from spending too much last season not only because they were saving up for Shohei Ohtani, a player the Padres also covet. They’ve also had a wave — patch, waves — of young talent coming in, and have been keen to incorporate these players into their mix.
Gavin Locks, 25, was at the center of those plans, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training, leaving the Dodgers to scramble quickly. Not to worry: James Ottman has emerged as the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year in the center field. Miguel Vargas shows wide offensive potential and adapts well to second base. And while none of the Dodgers’ best young pitchers have made an impact, either through injury or inconsistency, odds are at least they will. If not, there are five other prospects advertising behind them in the Double A rotation, creating fresh excitement among club officials.
For all their success, the Dodgers have had their share of failures as well, from the signing of Trevor Bauer in free agency to the deals of Yordan Álvarez (for Josh Fields) and Oneil Cruz (for Tony Watson) when they were young. The Dodgers also continue to test the theory that if you give a quality team enough chances in the postseason, they will eventually crack. Their only World Series title during their current run came from 10 consecutive postseason appearances during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The Padres will probably still be the better team this season, even though they currently trail the Dodgers by seven games in the West and the Diamondbacks by four. But compare farm systems with future salary commitments, and it’s clear which team is better built for the long haul. The same club that, in a supposed transitional season, is 16-4 after a 10-11 start, once again looks like a division class.
The Mets are the East Coast version of the Padres, an underperformer with an even more expensive pool of talent, the most expensive in major league history. However, the Mets feature two starters, catcher Francisco Alvarez and third baseman Brett Batty, and hold the promotions of two others, Ronnie Mauricio and Mark Vientos. They need to develop a small promotion, but their long-term model isn’t the Padres’ model. They are the Dodgers.
We can expect the Padres to get hot as their schedule winds down, with the Royalals, Nationals, and Marlins among their next five opponents. We can talk about how it won’t be the last in the majors at middle hitting with runners in the scoring position all season. We can express our legitimate concern about the Dodgers defense, wondering how long Clayton Kershaw’s back will hold when he’s on track to pitch nearly 200 innings, a total he hasn’t reached since 2015.
But until proven otherwise, there is a divide between these teams, one that is not easily identifiable, but is evident almost every time they play. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it simply: “We know how to win.” The Padres have not shown the same consistent talent. not yet.
(Top photo of Freddie Freeman and Manny Machado: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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