Dodgers-Astros Preview

Matt Kemp came close to becoming the first member of the Los

Angeles Dodgers in 23 years to win the NL MVP last season.

It appears he’s picked up right where he left off.

Kemp looks to continue his torrid start and help the Dodgers

make it five straight wins over the Houston Astros when the teams

open a three-game set at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

Kemp had a career year in 2011, hitting .324 with an NL-leading

39 homers and a major league-best 126 RBIs. That outstanding season

nearly saw him become the first MVP for the Dodgers (10-3) since

Kirk Gibson in 1988, but he finished second to Milwaukee’s Ryan

Braun.

The All-Star center fielder is showing that wasn’t a fluke,

batting .451 with seven homers and 18 RBIs as Los Angeles is the

early leader in the NL West.

“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing, driving in runs,

trying to help my team win,” said Kemp, who is batting .533 with

five homers and nine RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.

He had two hits, including a solo homer, to help the Dodgers to

a 4-3 win at Milwaukee on Thursday.

Kemp’s only two homers at Houston (5-8) have come in his last

three games, but he has just a .245 average and three RBIs in 15

games there.

Ted Lilly gets the ball aiming to win his first two starts of a

season for just the second time in his 13-plus year career. He last

accomplished the feat in 2009, and a dazzling effort in Saturday’s

6-1 win over San Diego has put him in position to match it.

The left-hander limited the Padres to an unearned run and two

hits in seven innings after opening the season on the disabled list

with neck stiffness.

Lilly has won four straight starts dating to last season while

yielding two runs – one earned – in 27 1-3 innings.

He’s 0-2 with a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts against the

Astros, with three ending in losses for the Dodgers while the other

two – also defeats – came with the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers were 5-4 against Houston last year, winning the last

four meetings by a combined 15-1 score.

The Astros are looking to build on their most impressive

offensive display of the season, ending a four-game skid by

collecting 17 hits with two doubles and three triples in an 11-4

win at Washington on Thursday.

“It’d be kind of nice to spread it out a bit more, rather than

all in one game, but we know it’s there,” manager Brad Mills

said.

Second baseman Jose Altuve has been a pleasant surprise, hitting

.348 after getting a double and a triple Thursday.

J.A. Happ (1-0, 3.75) takes the mound looking to remain unbeaten

for an eighth start in a row.

The southpaw is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his last seven games,

dating to a loss at San Francisco on Aug. 26. He yielded two runs

with eight strikeouts in six innings and left with a two-run lead,

but the bullpen wasted the effort in a 5-4, 11-inning loss at Miami

on Sunday.

Happ has a 1.69 ERA in three career games – two starts – against

the Dodgers, but an 0-1 record to show for it. All of those

appearances have come at home, including the most recent on May 24,

when he surrendered five runs – one earned – while giving up homers

on two of three hits in five innings of a 5-4 defeat.