hello, here is the procedure outlined in the manual and looks like you do have to drop the axle.
Remove the bolts from the oil filter adapter
Remove the oil filter and adapter
Disconnect the negative battery cable. Raise the vehicle, support it safely, and drain the engine oil.
On 1996-98 models, remove the engine oil dipstick.
Remove the underbody protection shield to access the axle bolts.
Remove the transmission oil cooler line bracket from the oil pan, if equipped (on models with automatic transmission only).
Remove the front propeller shaft.
On 1988-95 models, support the front axle, unfasten the axle mounting bolts and brackets. Rotate the axle to access the oil pan.
On 1996-98 models, unfasten the front axle two right side bolts and nuts, one upper bolt and nut. Rotate the drive axle forward and turn the front wheels to the left.
On 1988-95 models, remove the strut rods at the flywheel cover.
Remove the exhaust pipe crossover.
On 1988-95 models, remove the starter.
On 1996-98 models, remove the torque converter cover (on models with automatic transmission).
Oil cooler lines from the oil pan and from the adapter, if equipped.
Oil filter and oil filter adapter, if equipped.
Remove the strut rod fasteners
Remove the strut rods
Remove the oil pan bolts, nuts and reinforcements.
Remove the oil pan and gaskets.
The EPA warns that prolonged contact with used engine oil may cause a number of skin disorders, including cancer! You should make every effort to minimize you exposure to used engine oil. Protective gloves should be worn when changing the oil. Wash your hands and any other exposed skin areas as soon as possible after exposure to used engine oil. Soap and water, or waterless hand cleaner should be used.
Remove the torque converter cover
Remove the oil pan bolts and nuts
Thoroughly clean all gasket surfaces and install a new gasket.
Apply a suitable sealant such as GM part number 12346192 or its equivalent to the front cover-to-block joint and to the rear crankshaft seal-to-block joint. Apply the sealant about 1 inch (25mm) in both directions from each of the four corners.
Install the oil pan and new gaskets.
Install the oil pan bolts, nuts and reinforcements.
On 1988-95 models, tighten the pan bolts to 100 inch lbs. (11 Nm). Tighten the nuts at the corners to 17 ft. lbs. (23 Nm).
On 1996-98 models, tighten the oil pan nuts and bolts to 18 ft. lbs. (25 Nm).
Install the transmission oil cooler line bracket (on models with automatic transmission).
Install oil filter adapter, oil cooler and the oil filter.
Install the flywheel/torque converter cover.
Install the underbody protection shields.
If removed, install the starter.
Install the exhaust crossover pipe.
Install the strut rods at the flywheel cover, if removed.
Install the front drive axle.
Install the front propeller shaft.
Install the underbody shields.
Connect the negative battery cable.
Fill the crankcase.
Remove the oil pan reinforcements
Remove the oil pan from the vehicle
Remove the old gasket from both mating surfaces