The Red Sox begin a three-game series with the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Friday. But before the story gets there, it must first go back to where it all began: Adrian Gonzalez.
Then-general manager of the Red Sox Theo Epstein and then-general manager of the Padres Jed Hoyer -- the two now working together in the Cubs' front office -- each called the December 2010 swap a win-win for two franchises that appeared to be headed in opposite directions.
The Red Sox gave the Padres a young first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, along with others, for Gonzalez, a proven slugger.
Then came the Red Sox's crash in 2011, the forgettable first half of '12 and eventually a new trade: Gonzalez (hitting .297 with 16 homers in '13) would go to the Dodgers along with $12 million, Josh Beckett (out for the season due to neck and shoulder surgery), Carl Crawford (.289 average in '13) and Nick Punto (.257 in '13). To the Red Sox went James Loney (left for the Rays after '12), Rubby De La Rosa (currently in Triple-A) and Allen Webster (in Triple-A), along with Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Jerry Sands, who were each sent to Pittsburgh in the swap that brought back Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt.
And with that, the Red Sox unloaded $250 million of salary obligations, reshaped their roster and found immediate success in 2013.
As of June 22, the Dodgers couldn't have been as thrilled with their end of the deal. Their big investment had produced just a 30-42 record.
Then the Dodgers caught fire, starting with a six-game winning streak, and they're 45-10 since as they head toward Sunday's one-year anniversary of the franchise-shaping deal.
"I think it'll be fun to play them," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of the Red Sox. "They're a good club and they're playing good. The better teams continue to force you to be better. I look forward to it a little bit."
Who won the trade? Flip a coin.
"This is one of those deals that has helped both sides, clearly," said Sox manager John Farrell.
"I talked with Carl [Crawford], nobody seems to be bitter about anything," said Mattingly. "I'm sure the media will stir it up, but it's all in the past. They're doing well, we're doing well. It worked out for both teams and that's the way it's supposed to be and I'm sure it will continue to."
"It went fast. It seems like it happened yesterday," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "But I tell you what, the way they're playing, it tells you things have gotten better over there [in Los Angeles]. Things have gotten better over here. They're making the GMs look like geniuses."
The Red Sox are 5-8 over their last 13 games, but they're coming off a series in which they took two out of three from the Giants and have been receiving more promising news regarding Clay Buchholz, who could return to the team in early September.
Without Buchholz, the Red Sox have had a new No. 1: John Lackey.
By some measures, the 34-year-old is having the best season of his career. And it's immediately following his worst.
After missing 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lackey has struck out 124 batters while walking just 24 (his 3.88 K/BB ratio is the best of his career) while posting a 3.22 ERA and 1.22 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). And in 10 career starts against the Dodgers, he's gone 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA, the best against any team he's faced more than once.
The Dodgers have an unexpected ace of their own headed to the mound Friday. Ricky Nolasco has been as good as one could've hoped since coming over from the Marlins, having gone 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts.
Red Sox: Where there's a Will
When he was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 10 after nearly two months of finding his way in the Minors, Will Middlebrooks was looking at a batting average of .192.
He's reached base in all 11 games he's played since being recalled, raised his average 36 points and homered in two of his last four games.
Even with 20-year-old prospect Xander Bogaerts on the roster, Middlebrooks is making a strong case to stay in the lineup. He even played some second base late in Wednesday's game. "Will has come back to us and really swung the bat well in the time back here," Farrell said.
Dodgers: Still without Kemp
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Dodgers' run is that they've done most of it without Matt Kemp, who hasn't played since July 21 with a sprained left ankle.
With the Minor League season wrapping up in early September, it appears unlikely Kemp would go on a rehab assignment before returning to the Dodgers' lineup.
"September would be the best-case scenario for Matt," Mattingly said.
Outfielders Crawford, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier have performed well in Kemp's absence.
• Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe went 10-for-20 with a home run, three doubles, three walks and four RBIs on the team's seven-game road trip.
• Bogaerts is still looking for his first Major League hit. He's 0-for-4 with a strikeout in two games thus far.