By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Despite playing without Matt Kemp for nearly two months and Andre Ethier for the last two weeks, the injury-plagued Los Angeles Dodgers made it through the All-Star break with the NL West lead.
While their conclusion to the first half left much to be desired, the Dodgers have reason for optimism as their second half gets underway.
Kemp and Ethier are both expected back Friday night when Los Angeles opens a three-game set with the visiting San Diego Padres.
With Kemp (strained left hamstring) missing all but two games since May 14 and Ethier (strained left oblique) out the last 11, the Dodgers (47-40) hit .198 and averaged 2.2 runs in losing 15 of 20 before the break.
"I don't like how it's ended, but we've put ourselves in a good position," manager Don Mattingly, whose team fell 7-1 at Arizona on Sunday, told MLB's official website. "We'll see if we are good enough in the second half ... We need Matt to be himself, we need 'Dre to be himself."
Leading San Francisco by one-half game in the division, Los Angeles figures to get back on track with the return of its star-studded outfield duo. Kemp is batting .355 with 12 homers in 36 games, and Ethier ranks ninth in the NL with 55 RBIs.
"I'm just going to ease my way back into it and not try to do too much and not try to put too much pressure on myself," Kemp said.
"I'm happy that I'm going to be back for the first game of the second half, and it's exciting ... The second half is going to be tough, but I feel like we have a chance to do some great things if we stay healthy."
In addition to avoiding further injury, the Dodgers will need reigning NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw (6-5, 2.91 ERA) to find his form. The left-hander has been shaky of late, going 2-3 with a 4.15 ERA over his last eight starts.
Kershaw, who threw 27 pitches while escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning of Tuesday's All-Star game, was tagged for a season worst-tying five runs and five hits over 5 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss at Arizona last Friday. He is, however, 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA in his last eight matchups versus San Diego.
The Padres (34-53) had won a season-best six in a row before dropping three straight before the break - capped by Sunday's 4-2 loss to Cincinnati.
While San Diego has been limited to seven runs during its skid, it's feeling good about its recent efforts.
"The level of baseball we're playing now is crisper," All-Star closer Huston Street said. "I think I read the other day that (manager Bud Black) said we're playing better fundamentally. I think that's a good way to put it."
San Diego turns to Clayton Richard (6-9, 3.91), who went 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA in his previous five outings before getting hit hard Saturday. The left-hander allowed six runs in six innings during a 6-5 defeat to the Reds.
Richard has compiled a 2.62 ERA in going 6-1 lifetime against the Dodgers - his highest win total against any opponent. He allowed eight runs - four earned - over six innings during a 9-8 loss at Chavez Ravine on April 13, though.
While Kemp is 8 for 23 (.348) with two homers versus Richard, Ethier is 3 for 23 (.130).
The Padres have scored 33 runs during a season-high five-game road winning streak. They haven't won six in a row in opposing ballparks since an eight-game run in 2006.
Updated July 13, 2012