After a series loss, Astros loom

After dropping two of three to the Milwaukee Brewers in their first series of the season against a club that is reasonably expected to contend, the Los Angeles Dodgers return to the allegedly soft portion of their early season schedule Friday when they kick off a three-game series with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Dodgers will send veteran lefty Ted Lilly (1-0, 0.00) to the mound in the series opener for just his second start since beginning the season on the 15-day disabled list. Lilly pitched seven stellar innings, allowing only an unearned run and two hits, against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night after being activated earlier that day, and he likely would have been allowed to go longer if relievers Mike MacDougal and Jamey Wright hadn't needed work.

Lilly will be followed in the Dodgers rotation by reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night and Chad Billingsley on Sunday before the Dodgers return home for a six-game stand against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

The Dodgers have won 10 of their first 13 games this season, largely on the strength of the middle of their lineup, where center fielder Matt Kemp -- who won the NL Player of the Week award each of the first two weeks of this season -- continues to sizzle. After going 4-for-7 with a double and his seventh home run of the season in Milwaukee, Kemp will take an eight-game hitting streak into Houston.

The Dodgers are without third baseman Juan Uribe for now, as he has a mildly inflamed left wrist and is listed as day to day, but he conceivably could return by the weekend.