The Los Angeles Dodgers haven't lost back-to-back games since Clayton Kershaw had an uncharacteristically shaky outing over a month ago.
He's been dominant since, and he'll look to help get NL West-leading Los Angeles back into the win column against the surging Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Chavez Ravine.
The Dodgers fell a season-worst 12 games under .500 after Kershaw allowed four runs and seven hits over six innings of a 5-2 loss to San Diego on June 21 for the team's second straight defeat.
Los Angeles (53-48), though, has surged into the division lead - one-half game ahead of Arizona - by winning 23 of 29 since that defeat, despite falling 5-2 in Thursday's series opener with the Reds.
"We've worked hard to get to this point, and we don't want to let it go to waste," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "We've got some good teams behind us that are going to be tough down the stretch, so we've got to stay humble and understand that this is part of the grind.''
Kershaw (9-6, 2.01 ERA) leads the majors in ERA and has a 1.85 mark while going 4-1 over his last five starts. He allowed only a pair of solo homers to Washington's Jayson Werth over seven innings in a 9-2 win Sunday.
The left-hander, who has given up fewer than three earned runs 15 times in 21 starts and is second in the NL to the Mets' Matt Harvey in strikeouts with 148, is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in six career starts versus the Reds.
Cincinnati (59-44) also has been playing well lately, winning seven of its last nine after Xavier Paul and Jay Bruce each homered in Thursday's victory. It plays in a competitive Central Division, though, that boasts the best three records in the league and sits five games back of first-place St. Louis.
"You just have to go out there and play your game," manager Dusty Baker told the team's official website. "You can't worry about hot or cold because things can turn around. You can be hot one day and the next day freezing to death."
Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig had each two hits and Adrian Gonzalez drove in both runs Thursday for the Dodgers, who have lost five of seven at home to the Reds.
Los Angeles now will look to get back on track while facing Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey as this four-game series continues.
Bailey (5-9, 3.84) has lost three straight starts while posting a 5.50 ERA since tossing his second-career no hitter against San Francisco on July 2. He pitched well in his last start, though, striking out a career-best 12 and allowing three runs in 6 1-3 innings of Sunday's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Run support for the right-hander was again an issue for the Reds, who have scored more than two runs with him on the mound just once over Bailey's last seven starts.
''Homer was dealing,'' Baker said. "It's kind of rough when you're throwing the ball like that and you can't get any hits.''
Bailey, who is 2-7 with a 4.74 ERA in 10 road starts, is 3-2 with a 4.54 ERA in six career starts versus the Dodgers. He may want to be extra careful when facing Gonzalez, who is 8 for 15 (.533) with five homers in their matchups. That's the most homers Gonzalez has against any pitcher.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is hitting just .174 over his last six games, but he's 7 for 16 (.438) lifetime off Kershaw.
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