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Grading Dodgers' early returns under Dave Roberts

Despite some significant injuries, Dodgers first-year manager Dave Roberts has his team in contention in the NL West. Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Nobody gets to take the shortcut around the learning curve, and it seems that major league managers are no different.

Dave Roberts, in his first year at the helm of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is starting to settle in with a club that finally is finding its way.

Despite a rash of injuries, including a back issue for staff ace Clayton Kershaw, Roberts has been able to keep the club afloat in the National League West, which has been the domain of the San Francisco Giants for most of the season.

Asked to blend a collection of proven veterans with some rising young stars, Roberts' vision has been shackled by injuries that started early in spring training. Brett Anderson was expected to be a major contributor to the starting rotation, but he never got off the runway this spring because of a back injury that required an arthroscopic procedure. It got worse from there.

The Dodgers started the season with 10 players on the disabled list, believed to be the most ever, although DL records have been kept in full for fewer than two decades. Things still haven't corrected themselves three months later, as evidenced by the biggest injury blow of all, when Kershaw was diagnosed with a mild herniation of a disk in his back.

As if to add emphasis to the Dodgers' health issues, Joc Pederson went on the DL the same day as Kershaw. Pederson injured himself when he crashed into the center-field wall in Milwaukee, making what was probably a game-saving catch.

So with the understanding that Roberts has never had his entire “A” roster at his disposal at any point this season, here is what the Dodgers have done well, need improvement on and have reached some sort of middle ground on under Roberts' guidance:

WELL DONE

Roberts is no different from most managers when he preaches that dependable starting pitching is the path to success. The Dodgers have delivered in that area, even with all of the injuries and the young fill-in options they have been forced to rely on. Heading into play Wednesday, the Dodgers' 3.67 ERA from the rotation was sixth best in all of baseball. Kershaw has been the major contributor to that, of course, so continued success in this area will require his quick return.

The Dodgers don't have superior range when it comes to defense, but they know how to catch what is hit near them and make the necessary throws. The Dodgers have a .715 rating when it comes to defensive efficiency, a metric that measures turning balls in play into outs. Only the Cubs are better in the major leagues in that category.

The Dodgers have mixed in more young blood than they ever imagined they would this season, and much of it has shown that the future is bright. Roberts has been able to get max effort from most of the club's top prospects, with Corey Seager proving to be the brightest star of all. But players like Ross Stripling, Trayce Thompson and Julio Urias have made key contributions.

UNDERCOOKED

Offensively, the Dodgers are at their most inconsistent. Having to rely on rookies Seager and Thompson for most of their early-season run production explains why the Dodgers are playing catch-up in the division. If Roberts can get continued production from Chase Utley, more improvement from Howie Kendrick, career norms from Adrian Gonzalez and productive stretches from both Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal, a second-half run awaits.

It's hard to flag the manager on injuries; it is worth judging only how the skipper reacts to them and what pieces he uses to build the bridge to better health. Improved health will be needed if the Dodgers are going to have the kind of season they hoped for. It essentially means they need better luck. The positive is that, while Andre Ethier has been out all season, the absence has given Thompson the opportunity to be a contributor.

Wildly inconsistent in the won-loss column, the Dodgers need to finally settle into some kind of flow. The defining aspect of their first two months of the season was that when one part of the club got its act together, another area would struggle. When one person stepped up, everybody else would falter. Only lately have the Dodgers looked like they can get production from more than one player a night.

STILL SIMMERING

Heading into play Wednesday, the Dodgers' bullpen leads the National League with a 2.89 ERA. Imagine how far ahead they would be if their relievers did not get off to a rocky start. Kenley Jansen at closer makes any manager look smart. The amazing part of the club's success from the bullpen has been that roles still are not set behind Jansen. Who is the setup man? It has fluctuated from Chris Hatcher to Pedro Baez to Joe Blanton. It isn't the easiest way to manipulate the late innings, but Roberts is getting away with it for the most part. It will be interesting to see if he starts handing out set roles.

Kendrick had always been a full-time second baseman, and knowing where he was expected to play every day, in the past, took away any guesswork that might been a distraction. Kendrick finally seems to be settling into his own now despite never knowing if he is going to be asked to play second, third or left field. Can he get enough at-bats as a defensive rover to keep him in sync?

Ethier is due back at some point in the second half. He should have been back already, but his right leg fracture has been slower to heal than originally expected. He will need at-bats to return to being the productive player he has been in the past. What kind of patience will Roberts show as Ethier works his way back into form? And if Ethier is getting regular time in the outfield, how are guys like Kendrick and Thompson supposed to get the at-bats they're going to need?