Just less than a year after completing one of the biggest trades in baseball history, the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers stand at the top of their respective divisions.
They'll meet Friday night at Dodger Stadium for the first time since that blockbuster deal.
The Red Sox (75-54) hold a one-game edge over Tampa Bay for the AL East lead, while the Dodgers (75-52) have virtually run away with the NL West after building a 9 1/2-game lead over Arizona.
Before Boston finished 69-93 last season - its worst mark since 1965 - it dumped more than $250 million in payroll by sending Adrian Gonzalez , Carl Crawford , Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for James Loney , Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Jerry Sands on Aug. 25.
Loney, DeJesus and Sands are no longer with the organization, while De La Rosa's contributions have been minimal. However, the salary relief gave Boston more wiggle room to reach offseason agreements with free agents Shane Victorino , Stephen Drew , Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara , not to mention the re-signing of David Ortiz to a two-year deal.
Beckett's season is done after neck surgery, but Crawford and Gonzalez have made big contributions for Los Angeles, which is 45-10 since June 22 and 23 games above .500 for the first time since 2009. Crawford's .291 batting average is his best since 2010 with Tampa Bay, while Gonzalez, batting .370 over his last 11 games, leads the team with 16 homers and 77 RBIs.
"This is one of those deals that has helped both sides, clearly," Boston manager John Farrell told the team's official website.
Both also have been among baseball's best in interleague play this year, with Boston going 11-4 and Los Angeles going 11-6.
"The better teams continue to force you to be better," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told the club's website. "I look forward to it a little bit."
The Dodgers' surge has been bolstered by strong pitching, particularly during a 10-2 stretch with starters posting a 1.86 ERA.
Following Clayton Kershaw 's strong eight innings in a 6-0 win at Miami on Thursday, Ricky Nolasco (9-9, 3.60 ERA) takes the mound for Los Angeles. He's 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts since being acquired from the Marlins, including 3-0 in six outings since the All-Star break.
Nolasco struggled the last time he saw the Red Sox, surrendering nine runs and nine hits in 3 1-3 innings of a 15-5 loss June 20, 2012.
He'll try to cool off Will Middlebrooks , who homered in a 12-1 Boston win at San Francisco on Wednesday and is batting .441 with seven RBIs in 11 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.
Ortiz exited in the fifth inning with lower back tightness but is expected to play Friday, according to the team's official site.
John Lackey (8-10, 3.22) gets the ball for Boston after ending a five-start winless streak Saturday when he gave up one run over 6 2-3 innings in a 6-1 victory over the New York Yankees . His 15 quality starts lead Boston, but he's received no runs of support five times and three or fewer on eight other occasions.
Lackey is 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA in nine starts against the Dodgers - all while with the Angels - but hasn't faced them since a 2009 defeat.
Boston is batting .318 and averaging 5.9 runs in interleague play - both the best marks in the majors - and the top two AL batting averages in interleague play this year belong to Victorino (.455) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.438). Victorino, 11 for 22 over his last five games overall, is slugging .750 in 11 contests against the NL, while Ellsbury has scored 16 runs in 15 interleague games.
Crawford has hit .467 (21 for 45) off Lackey - tops among players with at least 30 at-bats against him - while Gonzalez has gone 6 for 14.
Victorino is just 6 for 37 with seven strikeouts against Nolasco. Stephen Drew is 11 of 21 with three home runs, three doubles and a triple versus the right-hander.
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||9||.333||3||1||1||0||1||.333||1.111||.778|
|Boston Red Sox|
|August 17, 2013||Mike Napoli||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 05, 2013||Matt Thornton||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|August 04, 2013||Matt Thornton||Day-to-Day||Right oblique soreness|
|July 19, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|July 13, 2013||Andrew Bailey||60-Day DL||Right shoulder strain|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|August 04, 2013||Hanley Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Jammed right shoulder|
|August 03, 2013||Yasiel Puig||Day-to-Day||Left hand contusion|
|July 30, 2013||Brian Wilson||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|July 30, 2013||Brian Wilson||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|July 23, 2013||Jose Dominguez||15-Day DL||Left quad strain|
|July 22, 2013||Matt Kemp||15-Day DL||Sprained left ankle|
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- One mistake by John Lackey gave the Los Angeles Dodgers their fourth win in a row.
Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run homer with two outs in the fourth and Ricky Nolasco pitched eight innings of two-hit ball in a 2-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night in the opener of an interleague series that began as a matchup between first-place teams.
The Dodgers earned their major league-leading 18th shutout of the season while improving to 46-10 since June 22. They opened a 10 1/2 game lead in the NL West, their biggest margin since holding the same lead on Sept. 28, 1977.
"We've been playing great," Nolasco said. "We're just staying with our focus no matter what the opponent is. We know how big it is to keep our `A' game going."
The Red Sox lost for the sixth time in eight games and fell percentage points behind Tampa Bay in the AL East standings. David Ortiz was hitless in three at-bats. Dustin Pedroia , Daniel Nava and Stephen Drew got the only hits off Nolasco.
He and Lackey dueled through much of Boston's first visit to Dodger Stadium since 2002. They combined for just five hits in a game that lasted 2 hours, 7 minutes, the Dodgers' shortest of the season.
"I had a lot of pitches going," Nolasco said. "You're just trying to match him. He just made one mistake and pitched a great game as well."
Nolasco (10-9) struck out six and walked none in tying his longest outing of the season. The right-hander reached double-digit victories for the sixth consecutive season, joining teammate Zack Greinke , Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia as the only pitchers to do so every year since 2008.
"We've had some guys throw very well against us this year," Boston manager John Farrell said. "But from a right-hander, this is probably as good a start as we've seen against us."
Nolasco is 5-1 in nine starts since being acquired from Miami. The Dodgers' starting rotation hasn't allowed a run in its last 23 innings and the staff improved to 18-2 with a 1.77 ERA in 27 games since July 26.
"As you get deeper into the season these guys start dominating," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Ricky made it look easy. He gets a variety of breaking balls over to get ahead in the count and then he can change speeds. When he gets in a bit of trouble, he has another gear. He doesn't seem to get rattled out there."
Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 22nd save in 25 chances.
Lackey (8-11) gave up two runs and three hits in eight innings, struck out six and walked none in his first complete game since Sept. 10, 2009, when he was with the Angels. The right-hander has received no runs of support six times this season.
"That's about as good as I've felt this year. I had everything pretty much working for me," Lackey said. "It's frustrating when one pitch can decide a game. I enjoy these kind of games. I've been in a bunch of them. It definitely heightens the focus a little bit."
Ramirez sent a 1-2 pitch over the wall in center field, scoring Carl Crawford , who led off with a single and stole second. Jacoby Ellsbury climbed the wall while attempting to make the catch.
"He was trying to quick-pitch me. Maybe try to get me off-balance," Ramirez said of Lackey. "You got to stay tough and keep fighting until the mistake happens. We knew it wouldn't be easy with him. He was throwing a lot of strikes."
Crawford was part of the blockbuster, nine-player deal between the Red Sox and Dodgers last August. He was 2 for 3 against his old team. Los Angeles got Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett , Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto in exchange for James Loney , Ivan DeJesus Jr., pitchers Allan Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands .
The Red Sox had the tying runs at first and second with one out in the fifth, but Will Middlebrooks grounded into a double play to end the inning.
"With the exception of the back-to-back base hits in the fifth, every ball we squared up was right at someone," Farrell said.
NOTES: Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully confirmed he will return in 2014 to call all Dodgers home games and road games in California and Arizona. It will be his 65th season with the team. ... Mattingly said slugger Matt Kemp is getting better, but he's not ready to return yet from a sprained left ankle. ... In 2002, the Red Sox were swept in three games in their only other trip to Dodger Stadium. ... Eight of Boston's last 12 losses have been by two runs or less. ... Boston was shut out for the 10th time this season.