May 29

Dodgers suffer second straight one-run defeat

Nathan Eovaldi pitched well enough to win in his 2012 Dodger debut, throwing six shutout innings after giving up a two-run homer to Ryan Braun in the first inning, and finishing with five baserunners allowed in seven frames.

But in his first start of 2012, Michael Fiers pitched a little better, allowing only one run on five baserunners in seven innings.

That left the Dodgers trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, which began with newly activated Matt Kemp lacing a double to left-center against Milwaukee closer John Axford to end a nine-pitch at-bat. Axford hit Andre Ethier (2 for 3 with an RBI double) with the next pitch.

In a way, though, hitting Ethier was like a well-placed intentional walk. Jerry Hairston Jr. tried to bunt, went to two strikes, then hit into a double play. With A.J. Ellis on deck, the Brewers smartly went after James Loney, who grounded out to end the game.

Fiers (89 pitches) and Eovaldi (90) maintained a quick pace in a game that was in the eighth inning when it hit the two-hour mark.

May 28

Not the Cody Ransom of my dreams

Cody Ransom doesn’t have many good memories of Dodger Stadium. It was his ninth-inning error on October 2, 2004 that helped keep the Dodgers’ comeback hopes alive long enough for Steve Finley to hit his division-winning grand slam. Ransom had struck out in four of five career at-bats at Chavez Ravine going into tonight’s game, then struck out three more times and grounded into a double play this evening.

But when Ransom does produce against the Dodgers, he makes it count. His only home run of 2011 beat Clayton Kershaw last August, and he made two big defensive plays in the bottom of the ninth tonight, shorthopping a Dee Gordon grounder on the run and diving for another by Tony Gwynn Jr. to create a force play, that helped preserve Milwaukee’s 3-2 victory over the Dodgers.

The Brewers broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with two unearned runs that followed a leadoff error charged to Aaron Harang when his throw to first base pulled James Loney off the bag – at least according to first base umpire Todd Tichenor. Replays showed otherwise. A walk, RBI single (the last of Milwaukee’s four hits), sacrifice and sacrifice fly followed, and that was enough.

The final run might have been prevented had Javy Guerra thrown to third on the sacrifice instead of going for a 1-6-3 double play and only succeeding on the 1-6 part, but such is life.

The good news for the Dodgers is that Matt Kemp, who homered in both his rehabilitation appearances with Albuquerque, is expected to be activated before Tuesday’s game.

May 28

Lilly heads to disabled list for second time in 2012

Brewers at Dodgers, 5:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Elian Herrera, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Dee Gordon, SS
Aaron Harang, P

Ted Lilly has gone on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation. Michael Antonini has been called up to work out of the bullpen if needed tonight, with Nathan Eovaldi set to take Lilly’s scheduled start Tuesday.

So far in 2012, Eovaldi has a 3.09 ERA for Double-A Chattanooga with 30 strikeouts against 45 baserunners in 35 innings.

* * *

An exhibition of baseball-related art, Baseball: The All-American Game, will take place at the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Boulevard across from the The Tar Tar Pits through September 9. Ron Cervenka of Think Blue L.A. has more details.

May 28

A tangible reason for the Dodgers’ success: defense

The Dodgers lead the majors this year in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to Fangraphs (via Baseball Musings), by a significant margin. Tony Gwynn Jr., Mark Ellis and James Loney lead the contributions.

* * *

At my Variety blog The Vote, I have a post about Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” that, if you’ve seen the episode, you might find worth your time.

May 27

Wait, wait, don’t serve me

Good on the boys in blue this weekend. They’re amazing, I tell you what. A.J. Ellis, Jerry Hairston, Chris Capuano … I see Butch and Sundance of the Houston Astros looking down the canyon and asking, “Who are those guys?”

* * *

There’s this relatively new pizzeria in Westwood, 800 Degrees, that I just find fascinating. Its calling card, essentially, is that it replicates the experience of waiting in the worst Dodger Stadium food line you’ve ever encountered, topped off by the lack of urgency or even regret over the time it takes to service a given customer.

The product, implicitly, is worth a pilgrimage of infinite time … which in reality, isn’t the case. The pizza is plenty good, but hardly lifechanging. Yet typically – if you’ve had a different experience, tell me – the line out the door is somewhere between 50 and 100 people.

Once you order your food, it’s prepared right in front of you, cooked in what I gather is the oven to beat all ovens, and ready to serve fresh and hot within five minutes. There’s a rule against saving seats in the restaurant until your food arrives – a rule that gets broken by some patrons, to our judgmental annoyance – but really, it’s not an issue. There always seems to be an empty table by the time you’re ready to sit down.

But the line. It’s insane. Just insane. We’ve been there two times. (Yeah, fool us twice …) Today, I timed the wait – nearly 50 minutes from our arrival to the cash register. You’re just standing there, moving a footstep once in a blue moon. I mean, who would actually volunteer to enter this kind of trap outside of a baseball stadium or other venue where you had no other options?

The answer, apparently, is hundreds or thousands of people every day, all generally in good spirits. It’s remarkable. It must be one of those things where people see the line and just assume they must want to be a part of it.  I have to imagine that someday, more and more people will decide, with a nod to Yogi Berra, that it’s so crowded that nobody should go there anymore. But that doesn’t seem imminent.

I’m bowing out, however. Vito’s Pizza on La Cienega will remain our go-to place. It’s farther away from our house, but we can complete the round trip in the time it takes to traverse the quarter-block line on Lindbrook Avenue in the shadow of the old Mann Festival theater. My New York-born-and-bred wife, who by birthright is the authority on such matters, deems Vito’s the best pizza in Los Angeles, and I’ve never seen any reason to disagree.

May 26

Site update

For two weeks, I haven’t been able to give this site the attention it needs.  And I’m not happy with the level of content. It’s been of no use.

So until a solution comes, if you haven’t already, set your expectations accordingly. Thanks.

May 25

Hairston activated as Sellers joins DL-go-round

Astros at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXVI: Kershaw I Met Your Mother

Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Elian Herrera, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Dee Gordon, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Jerry Hairston Jr. makes a welcome return from the disabled list and into the Dodger starting lineup tonight.

His roster spot is being vacated by Justin Sellers, who is suffering from the unpleasantness of a bulging disc. Hariston and Elian Herrera will serve as the backups at shortstop, though neither has much familiarity with the position of late.

May 24

Winning breeds chemistry: revisited


Winning breeds chemistry, and not the other way around. Happy scores make happy players. That’s one of the longtime philosophies of Dodger Thoughts, a firm stance in a debate that came up often during the clashes of the Jim Tracy-Paul DePodesta era.

The 2012 Dodgers are the first team in 10 years to tempt me with second thoughts. How else, one might ask, can a team with serious talent deficiencies in April, compounded by the loss of several players — including a superstar in Matt Kemp — to the disabled list in May, have the best record in the major leagues? In fact, since July 6, the Dodgers are 75-42, a pace that translates to 104 wins over a 162-game season, with a roster admired by few outside of Los Angeles and few others within the city limits.

Don Mattingly and his coaching staff have nurtured what would seem to be the best clubhouse atmosphere at Dodger Stadium since at least Manny Ramirez’s arrival in 2008. This is a happy, determined, focused bunch. Confident without being cocky, as the warm cliche goes.

But is that why they’re winning?

That would require us believing that chemistry is the reason Scott Van Slyke and Ivan De Jesus got their game-winning hits this week, instead of just a friendly ruling from the law of averages, that it’s the reason that Ted Lilly (Wednesday notwithstanding) and Chris Capuano have pitched beyond the highest expectations, that it’s the reason Kemp and Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis are All-Star candidates, that it’s the reason Elian Herrera looks like a revelation despite seemingly being found on Craigslist.

It would also require us ignoring how players like Dee Gordon are performing gamely but as if immune to the good vibes, that Chad Billingsley and James Loney can’t seem to derive any consistency from them, that they can make Van Slyke heroic off the bench but do nothing for him as a starter, when he is 0 for 13.

If Herrera, for example, comes back to earth after starting his career with an .854 OPS in 28 plate appearances, we wouldn’t infer that Chemistry has left the building. We would assume that it’s because Reality has entered.

There’s more than a bit of chicken-and-egg origin theory going on here. Winning and chemistry may well feed upon each other — you don’t need to rely exclusively on one to explain the joy of the 2012 Dodgers. It’s likely that a good environment works more for some players than with others.

Still, my view remains that baseball is a sport that motivates the individual to such a degree that clubhouse factors will be secondary to talent. It is not your typical workplace. Whether you’re a ballplayer fighting to keep a roster spot or pushing for extra millions on your next contract, you have every reason to try do well.

Right now, the Dodgers have a lot of guys who are succeeding in these efforts. They have, in a sense, mostly winners — more than anyone else in baseball on this day. And that’s what feels so good.

The true mystery isn’t how it happens, because it can happen at any time. The true mystery is how long these guys can make it happen.