Cardinals-Dodgers Preview

(AP) — A matchup between the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn and the Dodgers’ Ted Lilly doesn’t immediately scream pitchers’ duel, but they’re both throwing like aces these days.

Runs could be hard to come Friday night at Dodger Stadium when Lynn and Lilly square off to open a series between division leaders.

Lynn (6-1, 1.81 ERA) earned a spot in St. Louis’ starting rotation only because 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter is on the disabled list, but he has taken full advantage of his opportunity. His ERA is third-best in the majors and his .171 opponent batting average ranks second. Lilly (5-0, 2.11), meanwhile, is limiting opposing hitters to a .172 average.

Like Lynn, Lilly isn’t the most prominent pitcher in his team’s rotation – that would be reigning NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw – but he has been outstanding in his own right, ranking eighth in the majors in both ERA and WHIP (0.97).

Despite the sensational starts, Lilly and Lynn are coming off their respective worst showings of the season.

After posting a 1.41 ERA in his first five starts for the Dodgers (25-13), Lilly permitted five runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings against Colorado on Sunday, but received plenty of run support and emerged with an 11-5 victory. The 14-year veteran’s winning streak is now up to eight dating to last season, and he is trying to become the first Dodgers starting pitcher to open 6-0 since Kazuhisa Ishii in 2002.

Although Lilly has pitched in the NL for the last half-dozen years, he hasn’t faced the Cardinals (22-16) since 2009, while playing for the Cubs. The left-hander is 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in his last eight starts versus St. Louis.

Lynn yielded a season-high three runs – all on Jason Heyward’s bases-clearing double in the third – and four hits in six innings of Sunday’s 7-4 loss to Atlanta. The right-hander has never faced Los Angeles and, after Friday, he’ll still never have faced Matt Kemp, who is on the DL with a strained left hamstring. However, the Dodgers proved they can still generate offense without their No. 3 hitter in Thursday’s 8-1 win over San Diego.

“We just seemed to have more energy (Thursday),” Don Mattingly said of his team, which had totaled three runs while losing its first two games without Kemp.

Every Dodgers regular except leadoff batter Dee Gordon had at least one hit Thursday, and Gordon had a sacrifice fly. Andre Ethier had two hits and drove in his NL-leading 35th run, and could be poised for another big game. He has hit safely in 12 straight home games against the Cardinals, batting .468 with eight doubles.

St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran ranks second in the NL with 32 RBIs, but has not started in the last four games because of a right knee injury. It is uncertain if Beltran, who hit .360 with two homers in seven games at Dodger Stadium last season, will be in the starting lineup for the series opener.

The Cardinals arrive in Southern California after suffering a 7-5 loss to San Francisco on Thursday, their fifth defeat in seven games. St. Louis owns a 2 1/2-game Central lead despite the slump.

Los Angeles, owner of baseball’s best record, won the final four games of last season’s series with St. Louis after losing the previous seven meetings between the clubs dating to 2010.