The Los Angeles Dodgers salvaged three games from what could have been a disastrous road trip. On Friday night they will try to squeeze something out of a Clayton Kershaw start.
Kershaw will go for his first win in three outings as the first-place Dodgers return home for a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs.
Los Angeles (70-56) has come up empty in back-to-back Kershaw gems, 10-inning walk-off losses in Oakland on Aug. 18 and Houston on Sunday.
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A 3-2 loss to the Astros wasted eight innings of one-run ball from Kershaw (10-6, 2.29 ERA). More importantly, it was the Dodgers' fifth loss to start their eight-game trip through Oakland, Houston and Cincinnati, and it trimmed their NL West lead to 1 1/2 games over the Giants.
It was also just the second time all season Los Angeles dropped consecutive games from Cy Young candidates Zack Greinke and Kershaw.
''I hope we're panicking a little bit,'' Kershaw told MLB's official website. ''I think panic's a good thing to a certain extent. It's obvious we've got five weeks or whatever it is, too. So, there's a sense of urgency.''
The Dodgers took the message into Cincinnati and swept the reeling Reds in the final three games of the trip, lifting their division lead to 2 1/2 games. Greinke did the heavy lifting Thursday with seven innings in a 1-0 win.
The only bad news was the departure of right fielder Yasiel Puig, who paid a heavy price for legging out a ninth-inning infield single by reinjuring his right hamstring.
Puig, who's two singles moved his hitting streak to 10 games, said the injury was worse than the original one he suffered Aug. 18 that forced him to miss two games. Manager Don Mattingly did not say if Puig would undergo an MRI on Friday.
Puig was one of the only players hitting during the road trip, which included Mike Fiers' no-hitter last week. The Dodgers averaged 2.75 runs, just below their underwhelming August number of 3.91.
They likely won't need that much for Kershaw. The reigning MVP has given up one earned run or less in nine of his last 10 starts, a span that includes two shutouts and an ERA of 0.94.
The Cubs (73-53) will face a Cy Young candidate for the second consecutive day after a 9-1 loss to San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner on Thursday cut their lead for the second wild card to 5 1/2 over the Giants.
"You have to learn how to bounce back from a loss," manager Joe Maddon told MLB's official website. "You may be upset for about 30 minutes, and then you move on."
Chicago - which added right-hander Fernando Rodney to its bullpen in a deal with Seattle on Thursday - is 5-2 against former Cy Young winners this year, including a 4-2 win over Kershaw on June 22. Kris Bryant had two home runs, including a two-run shot off Kershaw, and he's batting .370 with three homers during a seven-game hitting streak.
Jason Hammel (7-5, 3.35) will face Los Angeles for the second time this year. One of the right-hander's best outings came during a 1-0, 10-inning win June 23 as he held the Dodgers to two hits over 7 2-3.
Hammel - 2-4 with a 4.96 ERA in 11 starts against the Dodgers - posted his longest outing in eight starts Sunday, allowing two runs in 6 1-3 innings in a 9-3 win over Atlanta.
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, who is 17 for 40 against Kershaw, is day to day after fouling a ball off his right shin Tuesday.