The monotony of the Dodgers' unreliable bullpen

OAKLAND -- Clayton Kershaw called it a "weird night, just felt kind of different out there."

It certainly looked a little different. Oakland A's fans, typically quite different in demeanor from the Raiders fans who fill the same stadium on fall Sundays, were involved in a couple of wild brawls in the stands.

Kershaw, perhaps picking up on the hostile energy, became so infuriated at plate umpire Todd Tichenor after what he thought was a missed call early, he slammed the ball into the turf after a batter reached on an infield single. Still not rid of his anger, he picked the ball up and fired it on a one-hop into the Dodgers' dugout, sending people scrambling off the rail for safety.

"I think he was just wound up pretty tight tonight," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He puts a lot into every start. It's almost like Sunday in the NFL when he pitches."

The one aspect of Tuesday night that was far from weird was another blown save from the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen that led to a 5-4 loss to the exhausted and slumping A's. Bullpen foibles have become numbingly familiar to this team -- not only in 2015, but when it mattered the previous season, too.

That's perhaps why even Kershaw, typically as supportive of his teammates as anybody in a Dodgers uniform, seemed a bit weary of it all. Kershaw went seven strong innings but left with the game tied 1-1 before A.J. Ellis' three-run homer in the eighth looked like it would get the Dodgers a win. But Pedro Baez gave all three runs back in the bottom half of the inning.

"A.J. with that huge homer right there kind of swings the momentum. It's definitely tough to give it back like that, but that's why we play tomorrow," Kershaw said.

It's hard to know what to expect of this bullpen, which is perhaps a slight upgrade over the state of things at this point last year, when most people expected disaster almost nightly. The bullpen was strong in April and May, has generally been awful in July and August, but was actually pretty solid last week.

"It was good for a few days at home there. I thought we were starting to get things kind of in order," Mattingly said. "Then, tonight happens, so obviously we're going to have to find ways to get the ball from our starters to Kenley [Jansen]. We've got guys who can do that and I trust that we're going to do that."

Mattingly might be stretching the truth just a bit in support of his pitchers, or maybe he believes it -- who knows? This group is not particularly overworked, so there's a chance it could get itself together before the playoffs get here, if they get here at all. Velocity doesn't seem to be an issue, as several of the Dodgers' relievers are touching 95 mph and up daily.

Finding an eighth-inning guy who can get a few outs would be a start. Lefty J.P. Howell has plenty of savvy and no apparent fear, but he's lucky to touch 87 mph and has been far from automatic lately. Baez and Yimi Garcia have shown signs of dominating at times, but they have proved wildly inconsistent, particularly once the team begins to rely on them in high-leverage situations. Jim Johnson has been better lately, but his first few starts since the trade from Atlanta couldn't have been much worse. Oakland fans certainly aren't big believers. He started last season as the A's closer before they had to release him, and when Johnson came in to clean up the eighth inning, fans booed him loudly.

It's hard to be a popular reliever, but lately the Dodgers would settle for one you hardly even notice.