In what could possibly be a World Series preview, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox put their storyline seasons together Friday in the opener of a three-game series at Chavez Ravine.
The Red Sox weren't expected to do much entering the season, but have been in the driver's seat of the AL East for most of the time. Los Angeles failed to meet high expectations early on until a late June surge catapulted the club to the top of the NL West.
Friday's game also marks the near one-year anniversary of the biggest deals in Major League Baseball. The Red Sox needed to dump salary and shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers in exchange for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Jerry Sands last Aug. 25. Crawford and Gonzalez have been major contributors to L.A.'s success this season, but Beckett is finished after undergoing neck surgery.
Loney, DeJesus and Sands are no longer with the Red Sox, whose moves allowed the club to add some key players in Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara. David Ortiz also inked a two-year contract to stay with the organization following the overhaul.
"This is one of those deals that has helped both sides, clearly," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is back home after a seven-game eastern trek (5-2) and took three of four meetings with the Miami Marlins to improve to 14-0-4 in its last 18 series. Clayton Kershaw was his usual dominant self in Thursday's 6-0 win and tossed eight scoreless innings, allowing five hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
"I was terrible the first few innings. I didn't have much command of my pitches," a modest Kershaw said. "Things could have gone a lot differently, it could have gotten out of hand pretty quick."
L.A. starters have a 17-2 record in the last 26 games since July 26. Brian Wilson made his Dodgers debut in the ninth, striking out two and allowing a hit in his first Major League game since Tommy John surgery last season.
"It was normal," Wilson said. "Long overdue. It's been a very arduous process. I'm glad I went through it. I appreciate this more."
Crawford knocked in a pair of runs and Yasiel Puig, A.J. Ellis and Skip Schumaker added an RBI apiece for the Dodgers, who have won 13 of their last 15 games and lead the NL West by 9 1/2 games ahead of Arizona. The Dodgers are 28-5 since the All-Star break and 45-10 since June 22.
The Dodgers will open a nine-game homestand Friday versus the Red Sox, Cubs and Padres, and hope Ricky Nolasco can kick off the residency on a positive note when he takes the mound. Nolasco is 4-1 in eight starts with a 2.98 earned run average since coming to Los Angeles via a trade with Miami and did not factor in the decision of a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Nolasco was reached for two runs in six innings against the Phillies and is 9-9 with a 3.60 ERA overall this season. The Dodgers are 6-2 in Nolasco's eight starts this season and the right-hander is 1-2 with an 8.16 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox.
Boston opened a six-game western sojourn by taking two of three from the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
The Red Sox came out in a big way in Wednesday's 12-1 pounding of the Giants as Felix Doubront was sharp on the mound with eight innings of one-run ball, three strikeouts and a walk.
"Everything was working," Doubront said afterward.
Drew and Will Middlebrooks both homered for the Red Sox, who have alternated wins and losses over the last six games and are one game ahead of Tampa Bay for the AL East lead. Drew hit a three-run homer in a five-run seventh inning and Middlebrooks got the Red Sox on the board first with a two-run shot in the second.
"To win this series was definitely a good thing because we're going up against a very hot and talented team down in L.A.," Farrell said.
The Red Sox are in a stretch of playing 16 of 19 games away from Fenway Park and have a 7-9 mark in that span. Ortiz was 0-for-3 Wednesday and still needs seven hits for 2,000 in his career.
Daniel Nava has reached base in a career-high 32 straight starts. He pinch-hit in the recent win over the Giants.
Red Sox right-hander John Lackey ended a lengthy drought his last time out and shoots for back-to-back wins Friday at Dodger Stadium. The veteran Lackey was 0-4 in five starts until turning in a decent outing Saturday in a 6-1 win over the New York Yankees. Lackey limited the rival Yanks to a run in 6 2/3 innings to push his record to 8-10 in 22 starts with a 3.22 ERA.
Lackey hasn't pitched well away from Beantown this season, going 3-8 in 13 road assignments, but is 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 10 career games (9 starts) against the Dodgers.
The Red Sox swept a three-game series with the Dodgers the last time the two clubs met from June 18-20, 2010. Boston is 5-1 in the previous six matchups with Los Angeles, which has won six in a row overall at home and owns a 37-25 record as the host.
L.A. took all three home meetings with Boston back in 2002.