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Have the Dodgers played to their capabilities? Not yet, says manager Dave Roberts

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts speaks with shortstop Corey Seager before a game against the San Diego Padres on Aug. 3.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Asked during a video call Saturday if his team had yet played a truly complete game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts paused to think.

On one hand, his club is 11-5 (its best 16-start since 2012) and according to Baseball Reference has a 99.6% chance of making the postseason.

Its pitching staff has MLB’s second-best ERA (2.53). Its defense has the league’s second-best fielding percentage (.993).

And at the plate, the Dodgers lead baseball in runs per game (5.44), are tied for the most home runs (29), and are top 10 in hits, walks, slugging percentage, on-base-plus-slugging, doubles and strikeout rate.

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But then again, Roberts and his players have lofty expectations, especially for a loaded lineup that boasts two former MVPs, six Silver Slugger awards and 12 All-Star appearances.

So, Roberts responded “I don’t think so,” to the complete-game question, a telling answer with the pandemic-shortened season already more than a quarter complete.

Walker Buehler understands how the Dodgers’ success this season depends, in part, on his ability to develop into one of the MLB’s best pitchers.

“We’ve piled on late in certain games,” he added. “I think for the most part ... the pitching and defense has been very consistent. But I think overall, from pitch one to the last pitch, it can get considerably better.”

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His players agreed, grading themselves on an equally ambitious curve after the schedule’s first 2½ weeks.

“You look around and you know the types of hitters we have on this team. We can do some damage,” said outfielder AJ Pollock, the team leader in OPS. “It’s cool knowing we were able to put up a bunch of runs early in the year like this and not feel like we’ve hit our stride.”

Added third baseman Justin Turner, pacing the club with 12 RBIs: “We have a deep lineup, we have three or four guys that can produce in a game. But I don’t think you’ve seen all nine hitters locked in, clicking on all cylinders yet.”

Some of the underlying metrics suggest they might be close.

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According to MLB’s Statcast system, the Dodgers have the second-best “barrel percentage” (batted balls of a certain exit velocity and launch angle) and fifth-best “hard hit percentage” (exit velocities above 95 mph). They chase the fewest pitches out of the zone (swinging at only 21.2% of non-strikes) and whiff on swings at the fifth-lowest rate (44%).

It all adds up to an “expected batting average” that is almost 30 points higher than their actual mark of .234, which ranks 14th. All that’s missing, Roberts said, is more consistent contact, especially early in games and with runners on base.

“We’re staying in the strike zone, but … we’re not hitting [them] hard and taking advantage,” Roberts explained. “One part of it is the process, swinging at strikes and taking balls. Now, once we get good pitches, to move it forward. There’s been a lot of pop-ups the last couple days.”

Individual contributions could increase too.

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Sparked by AJ Pollock’s three-run home run in the seventh and Mookie Betts’ three-run blast in the eighth, the Dodgers rallied to beat the San Francisco Giants.

Reigning MVP Cody Bellinger has been the team’s least productive hitter so far, ranking last among qualified Dodgers batters in batting average (.172) and on-base-plus-slugging (.513). Max Muncy and Joc Pederson have yet to back up their power with consistency (they have four and three home runs, respectively, but are hitting below .200). Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, two of their hottest hitters out of the gates, have also each missed time with injury.

“We got to remember we had a three-month shutdown to a three-month ramp-up,” said Turner, who is hitting .250 from the middle of the order. “Guys are still working through stuff, myself included, just trying to grind away and put together good ABs.”

Added Pollock: “You go through stretches where different guys will carry you through different stretches at a time, then you hope other guys around them are right in the middle.

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“We’re going to get there. We’ve got such a good lineup and we’ve got such good hitters on our team, the consistency, I think we’re close for sure.”

But the fact the Dodgers aren’t content speaks to their sky-high self-belief, striving for a boundless internal ceiling like artists in search of the ultimate masterpiece.

“Look,” Pollock said, “we’re still able to put up a bunch of runs even when we’re not really swinging the bat so great.”

But, he added, “When we can string together more consistent at-bats, we can do some damage.”

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