Star outfielder Mookie Betts will return to Fenway Park tonight for the first time since the Boston Red Sox traded him in February 2020 to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a five-player swap. For those who have forgotten, the Red Sox also sent southpaw David Price to the west coast in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong, and infield prospect Jeter Downs.
While Betts' homecoming of sorts will dominate headlines, this series is bigger than any individual player. Both teams have serious playoff implications resting on their every game at this point in the year. As such, CBS Sports has decided to give the Dodgers-Red Sox series the "things to know" treatment.
Below, you'll find the probables and start times for the three-game set, and below those, you'll find four other things to know about the series.
- Friday: Lance Lynn (LAD) vs. Kutter Crawford (BOS), 7:10 p.m. ET
- Saturday: Julio Urías (LAD) vs. James Paxton (BOS), 4:10 p.m. ET
- Sunday: Emmet Sheehan (LAD) vs. Tanner Houck (BOS), 1:35 p.m. ET
1. Trade has greatly favored Dodgers
If you'll recall, Betts was entering his final season of team control at the time of the trade. The Red Sox were motivated to duck under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold after exceeding it in both 2018 and 2019. Attaching Price's money to Betts helped lower Boston's tax number and payroll.
The Red Sox ranked No. 1 in payroll in both 2018 and 2019. They've since checked in at 13th, sixth, sixth, and -- as of Opening Day this year -- 12th, according to Cot's Contracts. Of course, the Red Sox have fielded a worse team as a result, in part because their return on Betts has underwhelmed.
Verdugo is a league-average hitter and good-fielding corner outfielder who hasn't yet matched his output from 2020. He's been benched multiple times this season by manager Alex Cora, once for failing to hustle and another for showing up late, and his name surfaced in trade rumors at the deadline. He'll be headed for free agency after next season barring an extension, so his time in Boston could soon be drawing to a close.
Wong is a backup catcher with above-average strength. He has below-average feel for the strike zone and contact alike, however, which limit his production. His framing also grades as well-below-average, according to Statcast.
Downs was viewed at the time of the deal as a good prospect, one with a broad array of average or better tools. His performance nosedived upon joining the Red Sox, with him posting full-season minor-league OPS of .606 in 2021 and .728 in 2022. He's no longer with the organization, having been claimed off waivers last December by the Washington Nationals.
Betts, for his part, enters Friday having hit .282/.369/.544 (145 OPS+) with 108 home runs in his first 439 games with the Dodgers organization. His contributions had been worth an estimated 20.9 Wins Above Replacement. Verdugo, Wong, and Downs have combined for 10.2 Wins Above Replacement for their Boston careers. The adage "you get what you pay for" comes to mind -- the Dodgers received a perennial MVP candidate, while the Red Sox received cost savings (that they haven't put to great use) and a few role players.
Price deserves a mention here, too. He pitched in parts of two seasons for the Dodgers, amassing a 3.47 ERA (120 ERA+) and 1.4 Wins Above Replacement.
2. Betts wanted to remain in Boston
Not to pour salt in the wound of Red Sox fans, but it's worth remembering Betts wanted to remain in Boston for the duration of his career. He said as much during a podcast appearance in July, and he reiterated that sentiment earlier this week while refuting a report from a Boston-based media personality suggesting the Red Sox had offered him $300 million.
"Most people don't believe it, but why would I lie about that? I did. That was my team," Betts told Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. "Just because I didn't take an offer didn't mean I didn't want to be there. There's a business component to the game. We were looking for houses in Boston. We thought it was going to work out. I thought both sides were playing the slow game and it would eventually work out. We were negotiating, that's what I thought."
The 2020 season being delayed and truncated by the COVID-19 global pandemic resulted in Betts signing a 12-year pact worth $365 million before he so much as appeared in a regular-season contest with the Dodgers. Nearly four seasons later, Betts and the Dodgers have every reason to be happy.
3. Series has playoff implications
Again, this matchup is bigger than any individual player, even when the player in question is as talented and productive as Betts.
The Dodgers have the second-largest division lead in Major League Baseball, but that doesn't mean they're in the clear. Los Angeles continues to chase the Atlanta Braves for home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Dodgers entered Friday four games back. The odds don't favor them making up that ground, yet there's a reason they play the games.
As for the Red Sox, they'd settle for simply cracking the tournament. A blowout victory on Thursday against the Houston Astros in concert with the Seattle Mariners having a day off drew them to 3 1/2 games behind both in the wild-card standings. The Red Sox have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the American League, so they'll have to earn their way in.
4. Rematch of 2018 World Series
Speaking of the Dodgers, the Red Sox, and the playoffs, you might recall that these two teams met as part of the 2018 World Series. The Red Sox won that series, and that championship, by a 4-1 advantage. Journeyman Steve Pearce (remember him?) won the Most Valuable Player Award by virtue of homering thrice and driving in eight runs over the course of 16 trips to the plate.
In the time since, the Dodgers have won a World Series of their own (2020) while notching three additional 100-win seasons. (They're on pace to cut it close this year.) The Red Sox, meanwhile, have returned just once to the playoffs, with that coming as part of an AL Championship Series loss in 2021.
Might we see the Dodgers and Red Sox meet again this October? Probably not, but we can enjoy the matchup this weekend.