The Los Angeles Dodgers opened the second half with a dominating performance on the road, then sputtered with a disappointing homestand.
After losing their hold on the best record in the NL, the Dodgers look to improve on the league’s best road mark when they go for their fifth straight victory away from home in the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Monday.
Los Angeles (55-44) lost three of four games against the Mets over the weekend to fall one-half game behind New York and Milwaukee for the top record in the NL. The Dodgers, still leading the NL West by one game, capped their 3-4 homestand with a 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Mets on Sunday.
They hope to bounce back on the road, where they are batting .335 while going 8-3 since June 21. Los Angeles swept a three-game series in San Francisco July 13-15 to improve to 26-20 outside Dodger Stadium.
Chad Billingsley (6-0, 3.56 ERA) will take the mound despite being bothered by a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. The right-hander is one of several Los Angeles pitchers struggling through injuries. Randy Wolf (shoulder) hasn’t started since July 3, and closer Takashi Saito (shoulder) has been unavailable for the Dodgers’ last four games.
“All I can tell you is, we’re still not completely smoothed out yet,” manager Grady Little told the Dodgers’ official Web site. “The key to the whole thing is to have everyone healthy and the starters go deeper on a more consistent basis.
“Good, solid performances out of our starters will fix us right up.”
Billingsley gave up four runs in five innings of his last start on Wednesday, but the Dodgers pulled out a 5-4 win over Philadelphia with four scoreless innings from the bullpen. Los Angeles is 5-1 in games started by Billingsley, who has never faced Houston.
The Astros (42-56) were outscored 8-6 in their three-game set against Pittsburgh over the weekend, but still managed to win two of three games for their first road series victory since taking two of three against the Chicago White Sox June 8-10.
Houston had four hits - one shy of its season low - in a 1-0 victory on Sunday. Luke Scott’s RBI single in the sixth inning gave the Astros their eighth win in their last 33 road games.
“We scored six runs in this series and won two games,” said manager Phil Garner, whose team has the worst road record in the NL but is 24-22 at Minute Maid Park. “Sometimes this game baffles you, but we’ll take it.”
For the Astros to build on that win, they will have to do so without a key member of the club. Outfielder Hunter Pence, who became the first rookie in either league since 1957 to own the highest batting average at the All-Star break, left in the fourth inning on Sunday because of a sprained right wrist. X-rays did not reveal any fractures, but Pence’s return to the lineup is uncertain.
Chris Sampson (7-6, 4.15) will start for Houston on Monday after holding Washington to two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-2 victory Tuesday. Fourteen of the 20 outs he recorded were on groundballs.
“I changed speeds, hit my spots and located well. Good things happen when you do that,” Sampson told the Astros’ official Web site.
The right-hander will be making his first career appearance against the Dodgers, who lost two of three in Houston last year.