After falling well short of expectations in 2021, the San Diego Padres played their way into the postseason and fell three wins short of a World Series appearance in 2022. Already boasting a roster full of all-star talents like Juan Soto and Manny Machado, the Padres went out this offseason and signed star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Despite signing one of the top free agents on the market and making a run at the National League pennant last season, the biggest storyline for the Padres in 2023 is the return of Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres star will make his long-awaited return in late April, gearing up San Diego for a potential championship run.
With a projected win total of 93.5 wins according to FanDuel, the Padres enter 2023 with high expectations. Anything short of a return to the NLCS could be seen as a disappointment for San Diego.
3. Padres win 100 games for the first time in franchise history.
For the first time in Major League Baseball history, all 30 teams will play each other at least once throughout the course of the regular season. It gives fans a chance to see some stellar interleague matchups that they normally wouldn't see, but it also gives the top-end teams in the league a chance to beat up on the minnows of the league.
The Padres are one of those top-end teams, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Offense travels well in baseball and the Padres are no exception. San Diego scored more than 100 runs on the road in 2022 than they did at home, and had a team OPS 52 points higher away from home.
The Padres should start off the year with a bang with five games at home against the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams who won a combined 142 games last season.
Perhaps the most favorable stretch of the season for the Padres comes at the end of June. They'll face the Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds consecutively for nine total games. The three accounted for a .368 win percentage in 2022.
Last year, four teams won 100 games in the regular season. If the stars stay healthy and the role players contribute around them, the Padres will win a minimum of 90 games. With the talent on this roster, 100 wins is a very reachable threshold this season.
2. Yu Darvish leads the NL in strikeouts.
Throughout his career, Yu Darvish has been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Since his MLB debut in 2012, Darvish has consistently been among the best strikeout artists on the mound, with a career strikeout per nine innings of 10.8.
In his 10 MLB seasons, Darvish has topped 200 strikeouts four times and averaged 198 strikeouts across the last two seasons. While his strikeout metrics were slightly down in 2022 (career-low 9.1 K/per nine) Darvish finished 7th in the NL in punchouts and logged the second-most innings of his career (194.2).
The Padres rewarded Darvish in the offseason with a six-year, $108 million contract extension, keeping him in San Diego through his age-42 season.
Despite his struggles in the 2023 World Baseball Classic with Japan, expect a rejuvenated Darvish on the mound for the Padres in 2023. Darvish is a gamer who knows how to pitch deep into ball games. If he can get close to 200 innings again this season, Darvish should easily get to 200 strikeouts. Pair that with some down years from some of the other top pitchers in the NL and Yu Darvish has a real shot at being the NL strikeout king in 2023.
1. Padres acquire Corbin Burnes at the trade deadline.
No pun intended, this one may be way out of left field. Until you start breaking it down piece by piece.
First off, Corbin Burnes is one of the five best starting pitchers in baseball. He followed up his 2021 NL Cy Young Award-winning season in 2022 by making 33 starts and leading the NL in strikeouts, finishing seventh in NL Cy Young voting.
Burnes' current team, the Milwaukee Brewers, should be playoff contenders this season. Baseball is a very unpredictable sport though and despite the talent that the Brewers possess, a bad start to the season or a 2-10 two-week stretch in mid-July could send the franchise into a firesale.
Burnes is eligible to hit free agency after the 2024 season and there are already fractures in his relationship with the Brewers after they low-balled him during the arbitration process in February. Milwaukee also consistently has one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, leading some around the league to believe that they won't offer Burnes the money he deserves whenever long-term contract negotiations presumably take place.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller was the most aggressive GM in the league last trade deadline, striking a deal for the best player on the market in Juan Soto. He also made a deal with the Brewers, trading for all-star closer Josh Hader.
With those deals, it's going to be hard for Preller and the Padres to come up with the trade capital to land a player of Burnes' caliber this season. The Padres have the 23rd-ranked farm system entering 2023 according to MLB.com, with just two prospects in the top 100.
Stranger things have happened before though. If all the stars align, the Padres are in contention with the Brewers far out of it and Burnes maybe having a down year to his standards, don't be surprised if Preller picks up the phone and tries to strike another blockbuster deal.