By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Matt Kemp came close to becoming the first member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 23 years to win the NL MVP last season.
It appears he's picked up right where he left off.
Kemp looks to continue his torrid start and help the Dodgers make it five straight wins over the Houston Astros when the teams open a three-game set at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.
Kemp had a career year in 2011, hitting .324 with an NL-leading 39 homers and a major league-best 126 RBIs. That outstanding season nearly saw him become the first MVP for the Dodgers (10-3) since Kirk Gibson in 1988, but he finished second to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.
The All-Star center fielder is showing that wasn't a fluke, batting .451 with seven homers and 18 RBIs as Los Angeles is the early leader in the NL West.
"I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing, driving in runs, trying to help my team win," said Kemp, who is batting .533 with five homers and nine RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.
He had two hits, including a solo homer, to help the Dodgers to a 4-3 win at Milwaukee on Thursday.
Kemp's only two homers at Houston (5-8) have come in his last three games, but he has just a .245 average and three RBIs in 15 games there.
Ted Lilly gets the ball aiming to win his first two starts of a season for just the second time in his 13-plus year career. He last accomplished the feat in 2009, and a dazzling effort in Saturday's 6-1 win over San Diego has put him in position to match it.
The left-hander limited the Padres to an unearned run and two hits in seven innings after opening the season on the disabled list with neck stiffness.
Lilly has won four straight starts dating to last season while yielding two runs - one earned - in 27 1-3 innings.
He's 0-2 with a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts against the Astros, with three ending in losses for the Dodgers while the other two - also defeats - came with the Chicago Cubs.
The Dodgers were 5-4 against Houston last year, winning the last four meetings by a combined 15-1 score.
The Astros are looking to build on their most impressive offensive display of the season, ending a four-game skid by collecting 17 hits with two doubles and three triples in an 11-4 win at Washington on Thursday.
"It'd be kind of nice to spread it out a bit more, rather than all in one game, but we know it's there," manager Brad Mills said.
Second baseman Jose Altuve has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .348 after getting a double and a triple Thursday.
J.A. Happ (1-0, 3.75) takes the mound looking to remain unbeaten for an eighth start in a row.
The southpaw is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his last seven games, dating to a loss at San Francisco on Aug. 26. He yielded two runs with eight strikeouts in six innings and left with a two-run lead, but the bullpen wasted the effort in a 5-4, 11-inning loss at Miami on Sunday.
Happ has a 1.69 ERA in three career games - two starts - against the Dodgers, but an 0-1 record to show for it. All of those appearances have come at home, including the most recent on May 24, when he surrendered five runs - one earned - while giving up homers on two of three hits in five innings of a 5-4 defeat.
Updated April 20, 2012