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Playoff Phever -- and Acta Outtakes

My goodness, this is going to be fun. Currently on the Acela up to Philly, where I'm sure a packed house awaits tonight. The Phillies and Mets are tied with three games to play, and the Nationals could have a huge hand in disappointing the City of Brotherly Love.

I'm trying to write a season wrap-up that'll go in Sunday's $1.50 edition, so there's that to look forward to, and I'll be brief here. You can read about Manny Acta's first season here. There's a statistical oddity in the notebook here. Boz is likely to join me at some point in Philly, and perhaps Sheinin on Sunday, so we'll be equipped to bring you a big weekend.

But because I wrote about Manny for the $.35 edition, I figure it'd be good to continue our position-by-position breakdown with him. (The way this is going, it'll head into the offseason, which is fine with me.)

Manny Acta
Age: 38
Contract: Two years plus two options, worth roughly $400,000 in 2007, $500,000 in 2008, $600,000 in 2009 and $700,000 in 2010.
Record: 72-87, fourth in NL East

Before I let you all discuss Acta and what you see as his strengths and weaknesses, I'll bring you some of the stuff that Didn't Make the Paper from a couple interviews I had with him this past week.

One thing I didn't touch on in the story -- ran out of space -- that I wanted to is the three meetings he held this year. One was in Atlanta in April, one in Pittsburgh in June, one at RFK at the end of August. Here's how he handles those situations:

"I think to me the timing is extremely important, and I think the amount of them is important too. I'm a big believer that if you have way too many meetings, guys will tune you out. And I've seen it over the years. I just think that in 162 game season, if you're going to be having meetings because you're losing ballgames, you're going to have way too many of them. Especially if you're not a first-division club like we are right now."

How do you plan on the timing?: "I usually think about it a day or two before it's going to happen. It's in the middle of either a losing streak or in the middle of lack of effort type of time, those types of actions of a player or two, and a time when maybe I feel that guys are getting down on themselves because I actually don't go in and yell and scream. If I have to, I do, and I do a little bit of it. But it's mostly inspriational type of things."

Do you think about it and write down thoughts, or do they flow?: "I don't write down stuff when I speak to the guys. I do think about what I'm going to say a day in advance or two. I'm pretty good at being spontaneous so far. And once I start, things just come out of it, and um, I do kind of know the things that I'm going to touch on, and I kind of expand once I start talking. Obviously, there's going to come a time where I'm going to get to a point where I'm going to have to write things down, but right now, I have a pretty good memory, and I can handle those type of things."

So a bit of a glimpse on how he handles those things.

I'll talk to you from Citizens Bank Park. Can't wait.

By Barry Svrluga  |  September 28, 2007; 11:52 AM ET
 
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Next: Nationals pick up 2009 option on Manny Acta

Comments

Lets play spoiler!

Wondering if Acta wants to help his good friends out in Queens....

Posted by: the cheat | September 28, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

His "good friends" in the seats out in Queens would appreciate it; the NY Daily News' equivalent of NJ is redolent with posts calling for the head of one Mr. Randolph, and his replacement by one Mr. Acta.

Posted by: Section 502 (formerly) | September 28, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Obviously I am openly and unashamedly enamored of Manny and his low-key, upbeat management style, so it's impossible for me to be objective about him.

Including whether he deserves NLMOY. But c'mon, folks, does he deserve it any less than the other candidates? Who of them could have done what he's done with the Nats? And what NL team wouldn't like to have Manny at the helm? (Especially the one in Queens, just now.)

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Hendo. I simply love Manny and his management style (ahhhhhhhhh). I'm totally on board the MOY bandwagon (and the Nats bandwagon, of course). Objectivity? eh, not so much. Nats suits, please lock him up with a sweet long-term contract so he can lead us to the promised land! And, as noted in another thread, hands off our Skip, Shea suits!!!

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 28, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Hope you got your tickets already if you're going. The Philly paper is reporting that the entire weekend sold out in 45 minutes this morning. Hope those Phans enjoy seeing their team LOSE!

Posted by: #26 | September 28, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

We got this man for $400,000 this season?!?!

BEST DEAL IN BASEBALL

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Nats also heading for a season with zero complete games (they only had one last year).

That's never happened before.

Believe another team may do that as well this year, though.

Posted by: Sam | September 28, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

And Barry -- you and your readers should read Chris Needham's Case For A Zimmerman Gold Glove at Capitol Punishment. http://dcbb.blogspot.com/

I hear it only cost Brodie Van Wagenen a case of Old Milwakuee and a couple of bags of pork rinds. Who knew.

Posted by: Sam | September 28, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Hope we keep Manny for a LONG time.

Hope we KILL Philly this weekend!

Posted by: G-town | September 28, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Just to complicate adulation, read an analysis of Manny's "no-doubles defense" here:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/tht-mailbag-bursting-with-questions/

That article, by the way, is the second I've read today that showers love on some guy named Logan who gets flayed in this Journal with breathtaking regularity. It's enough to make a fan want to pick him up to play center field at Nats Park.

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

General Manager Section 506 (Before moving) would do this next year:

RF: Austin Kearns
CF: Logan
LF: Wily Mo Peña

Church would start in center when the match-up worked out and also be a PH. He would also backup Peña and Kearns in order to give them off-days, with the goal of having him play five games a week. He's clearly at his best when he has some break time.

Check back in with Justin Maxwell in July and see if he's ready to take over CF. If not, that's cool, we'll keep Nook.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm an Acta fan. Obviously results matter and his results have been acceptable. He clearly exceeded most people's expectations. I still wish he would show a little more fire from time to time and I wonder how the patience and low key approach will play in year two or three. There is certainly a school of thought that at some point you have to replace low key with high strung to get to the next level. But we won't know for some time if the Nationals players need that push.

Acta selected Tolman and I think you have to at least consider if the Tolman brings more than the team loses with him as a third base coach. Its hard to ask for more from a bullpen than the Nationals players delivered and so it seems reasonable to keep the bullpen coach Aponte.

St. Claire is excellent but the freakish number of injuries is concerning. Probably has nothing to do with St.Claire but some expertise needs to be focused in that direction.

Lenny Harris is the most interesting one to me. If he is indeed responsible for helping Logan, WMP, and Kearns make adjustments, he should be kept. If he plays cards too much and doesn't work enough (as some have implied) then that needs to be addressed.

All of which brings me back to Acta. He appears to be excellent with the players. He definately earned another year (or two). He may have room for improvement including how he manages his coaches.

De-pheat de-Phillies. Go Nats!

Posted by: NatBisquit | September 28, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

That's very interesting, GM Sect. 506 (BM). Now, how would you handle the Skip's future?

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 28, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

re: Manny's strong points

1) He seems to think about what he's doing. This may be obvious, but not all managers do.

2) He focuses on what players can do, not what they can't do. Belliard has no range, so Manny lets him play deep. Other managers would focus on the lack of range. Church doesn't look good when he strikes out. Frank didn't like that. Manny focuses on his abilities.

3) Everyone on the team has an assigned role & he uses the whole roster, although within the framework of a set lineup most of the time. Doesn't seem to be any grumbling on the bench. This may be a factor of the backups being happy/satisfied in that role (Batista, Flores, Fick). Will be interesting to see what happens if/when the talent level improves.

4) There's no evidence that he can't manage a bullpen. Despite what may be historic use of the relievers, no one seems overworked. Doesn't warm anyone up and then not use them.

5) It appears that he can deliver messages without getting personal. Example--Lopez (I think).

6) Notice how Brian Schneider is a lot more vocal/out front this year? Not a coincidence, IMO.

It remains to be seen if there will be a change when bigger salaries/bigger egos land on the roster.

Posted by: Section 418 | September 28, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

"Nats suits, please lock him up with a sweet long-term contract so he can lead us to the promised land! And, as noted in another thread, hands off our Skip, Shea suits!!!"

Assuming that those two option years in Manny's contract are club options (Barry didn't specify, but I'd think that in a managerial contract they'd almost have to be), the Nationals already have Manny locked up through the end of the 2010 season. The Mets or any other team would have to get the Nationals' permission to talk to Manny about any managerial opening, and if the Nationals let him go I think they'd be due some compensation in the form of draft picks. I doubt that there is reason for anyone to worry about another team stealing Manny from the Nationals, unless they decide to let him leave. And they won't, you can bet on that.

Posted by: Section 419 | September 28, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link, Hendo.

Two comments--

He still breaks back more often than not. His lateral range is exceptional. The problem isn't extra base hits, it's singles falling in front of him. Is it worth putting up with? The jury's out, IMO.

The surplus of doubles against may be due to poor defense at 1B. Dmitri is in the running for the worst I've ever seen at that level and has no range whatsoever. Fick has good hands on throws, but does not play ground balls well. His lateral range is not good. So, the positioning could be great but the plays aren't being made.

Posted by: Section 418 | September 28, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

"He still breaks back more often than not. His lateral range is exceptional. The problem isn't extra base hits, it's singles falling in front of him. Is it worth putting up with? The jury's out, IMO."

Plus, he has an absolutely terrible arm. Many times he might very well be able to get the ball back into the infield faster and more accurately by running it in rather than throwing it.

Posted by: Section 419 | September 28, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

GM Sec 506 would sign Manny Acta for life. He's a little bit extreme in his passions. Grr, Philly.

Do we have any quantification of this "breaking back" Nook Logan thing? It's become conventional wisdom, so I'm suspicious. When I'm watching TV, every time he does it, I see it. But every time he DOESN'T do it, I don't see it. So how often does he really do it? For real, not a gut sense.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for that, Sect. 419!

---

I doubt that there is reason for anyone to worry about another team stealing Manny from the Nationals, unless they decide to let him leave. And they won't, you can bet on that.

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 28, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Yes, they are club options.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | September 28, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the confirmation, Barry.

---

Yes, they are club options.

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 28, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, the Terps have been an absolute dynasty since locking up Friedgen for 10 years after 1 good one.

OK, that was snarky. And not about baseball. But you get my point.
-------
Nats suits, please lock him up with a sweet long-term contract so he can lead us to the promised land!
Posted by: Section 419 | September 28, 2007 02:26 PM

Posted by: cevans (svrmoving) | September 28, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

". . . some guy named Logan who gets flayed in this Journal . . ."

And, let me clarify, not by the Journalmeister. (Although I'm not altogether sure why not. Perhaps the Journalmeister, like the manager, is a little smarter and more dispassionate than the rest of us -- such as yours truly, who had Logan on the waiver wire at the end of June.)

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

And if they DO, you can bet they won't tell him until a week before he cleans out his desk.
--------
I doubt that there is reason for anyone to worry about another team stealing Manny from the Nationals, unless they decide to let him leave. And they won't, you can bet on that.
Posted by: Section 419 | September 28, 2007 02:26 PM

Posted by: c snarky | September 28, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Bowden is nominating him for Manager of the Millennium, already, so it's pretty clear they like him.
Seriously, here's a different question: what *would* it take for Manny to lose his job after or during 2008, baseball-related, not some act of moral turpitude?

Posted by: cevansjr | September 28, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

(Jeopardy! theme music ... )

Posted by: Anonymous | September 28, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously, here's a different question: what *would* it take for Manny to lose his job after or during 2008, baseball-related, not some act of moral turpitude?"

Manny could survive another sub-.500 season, but not a string of them.

In particular, if the bullpen were to weaken noticeably, that would probably hasten his exit, whether because of something under his control (e.g., woeful decision-making) or not (e.g., lack of personnel).

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

OK - sort of off topic - but since we are talking about managers/coaches, did you all see OKST coach Mike Gundy's rant? http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=3038029&sportCat=ncf
A must see, and I say good for him. I think there must be more to the story (the article was probably just the straw), but the columnist did make the college QB look like a Mama's boy. Bottom line - I know how coach feels.

Posted by: Patty | September 28, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I was going to say, if they land some tempermental high-ticket guys, AND Leland or LaRussa or Torre is available, and the FO gets glitter in their eyes.
Manny's a young guy, and relates well to the younger talent. We have some idea how he handles stars, because he sat Alphonso's culo down in the WBC without a problem. I believe he could manage the Yankees, now, and do well.

Posted by: cevansjr | September 28, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Sally Jenkins talks about ranting & raving far better than I could:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/27/AR2007092701972.html

Posted by: Juan-John | September 28, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

The Journalmeister? How about the Snarkmaster General?

Posted by: Bob L. Head | September 28, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Two years of watching Frank kinda screws you up for watching Manny. Most of the time, you don't think Manny is doing anything at all... because in contrast to Frank, whose mark and fingerprints were on every at bat, pitch and fielding play, Manny just lets them play. The only exception to that is the outfield positioning, which I think has made a huge difference for them. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen a ball stung off the bat, and it turns out to be hit right at someone in the outfield.

The biggest contribution that Manny's made is how he's built a cohesive team that is still playing hard in late September. Of course, it's not the same as being in a pennant race, but these guys think they have something to prove... It will serve them well when the September games mean something.

I could see Manny as Manager of the Year... but I think the Nats are just a little too under the radar to get many people's attention... But it doesn't matter... what matters is a World Series ring... and I think it is coming.

Posted by: Wigi | September 28, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Re Mike Gundy, also read Jenni Carlson's before-and-after columns in the Daily Oklahoman.

I empathize with Bobby Reid and appreciate Gundy standing up for him. At the same time, I'm not ready to damn Carlson just yet.

Does that make me a hopeless, waffling wuss? A Mama's boy? WWJW (What Would Jenni Write)?

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Ah - I like Sally's article. It does seem like there are more blow-ups these days, doesn't it? I blame the internet!

Posted by: Patty | September 28, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I too am on the Acta bandwagon and offer no pretense of objectivity. I agree with most of the complimentary points mentioned above - especially about his even keel which I think must be credited for salvaging the horrendous start to the season.
I would like to see him less reluctant to argue with umpires if only in defense of his players. I have always respected Bobby Cox for this characteristic and I think his players do to. They know that they don't need to get thrown out because Bobby will come out and do it for them.
Praise should go too to Kasten and the Lerners for bringing Pat Corralles in as a bench coach. I think that this is an underappreciated position but one vitally important with an inexperienced managed. I've long suspected that Don Zimmer had much to do with Joe Torre's initial success in NY - even though Torre was an experienced manager by the time he got there.
Tolman will be an interesting test case of Acta's managing ability (which does not only pertain to players). He had a difficult year at third and I think it reasonable for fans to expect better next year.
I must confess I have never been enamored with Randy St. Clair and have wondered publicly about the number of arm injuries and the number of first inning runs. But he must be credited with doing an incredible job this year with a patchwork staff - indeed maybe even a miraculous job if one considers the possibility that perhaps only two or three of these pitchers will be playing major league ball in two years. Time will tell and I am becoming one of the converted (but perhaps would still like to know more about the throwing program in the off-season/pre-season)
It has been a great year to be a Nats fan (not something I would have expected as we left Viera)and Manny and his staff deserve an extended honeymoon for their efforts.

Posted by: lowcountrynatsfan | September 28, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Sally Jenkins is entitled to her opinion and I'm glad she wrote it.

I can't say I agree, though, particularly with the implicit assertion that meanness in print is OK but yelling in public sucks. What's more, I think she's trying to lump a number of situations that can't be compared using a single set of criteria.

In any event, at least we've been blessed with a welcome lack of such drama from the Nats' dugout and clubhouse.

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I read the discussion on the "No Doubles" outfield, and I don't think that what they described is what I remember being told about it. If I remember, it was combining pitch placement with shading outfielders to take away the line and one gap... forcing the batter to hit into the defense... not just about shading the corners to the line. I'd be curious to know if others remember that, or could point me to where I read it again (or something similar).

Posted by: Wigi | September 28, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

To publicly humiliate another human-being serves to promote resentment. How does that type of behavior build a team?

Posted by: D Brown | September 28, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

My colleague has suggested renaming the Manager of the Year Award "the Manny."
http://dcoptimist.blogspot.com/2007/08/commissioner-selig-rename-this-award.html

Posted by: Bobtimist Prime | September 28, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Pat Corrales, THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE!!!

Posted by: G-town | September 28, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Love Manny, but if Phillie makes the playoffs Charlie Manuel should be MOY just for the guff he took in the first half. If not, Bob Melvin for putting a team in the playoffs even though they've been outscored for the season. Manny next year.

Posted by: Mark | September 28, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Manny's awesome. I'd stalk him.

Two things I love about the guy, you know, besides all the baseball stuff. His absolute stone-face, cool-as-a-cucumber look anytime the camera shot's on him. I get nervous FOR him sometimes and I can't keep a stone face, even in my own living room.

(girl alert) The other thing I find absolutely adorable is how he walks out on the field to get a pitcher or talk to an ump. He always has a kind of "aw-shucks" shuffle when he's walking out, even when he means business. Almost like he's shy to have all eyes on him.

But yea, back the the baseball stuff. Ditto on all the other posters' (positive) comments. Absolutely love the guy. He makes me trust him.

Posted by: NatsNut | September 28, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I have a lot of respect for Charlie Manuel. He's been taking guff for years, decades really, and just keeps going out there every night and doing his job.

Bob Melvin's a worthy candidate (although it was tacky of him to name his ballpark after himself). But I would guess, just because of this wild 'n wooly finish, the nod will go to the survivor of the NL East, with some discerning votes for Manny.

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Charlie Manuel is not MOY quality. Last Sunday he took Hamels out of the game early for a pinch hitter when he was just getting good and put in the over-worked bullpen that led to the Nats victory.

Hamel had less than 80 pitches and was batting 1 for 2 with a walk.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

506, you could be right. Still, I offer:

(1) Manuel was being conservative, perhaps overly so, with a pitcher recently returned from the DL.

(2) Alfonseca.

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Hendo, in addition to Manuel's faults detailed by 506 (Bm), I have to say that I think Randolph has NO shot at the award, even if the Mets end up making the playoffs (mandatory pause to appreciate and hope for ongoing Nat domination against all comers)... He's taken way too much flak, both from the NY media and the national media, and they've come far too close to choking away what seemed to be an insurmountable lead down the stretch.

If the Mets make the playoffs (removing Manuel from the discussion), I'd count on Melvin or Clint Hurdle to win the award.

Posted by: faNATic | September 28, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Acta's first year performance is almost above reproach. (If the injuries to starters can be traceable to coaches' errors, then I ask permission to revise and extend my remarks.)

There needs to be some attention given to the little things--reducing the number of baserunning mistakes, hitting cutoffs, how to do rundowns, etc. But this was a team with a lot of new faces and they now seem to be a team in reality.

Acta deserves five full years, I'd say, before we really know what he can do.

Posted by: JohnR(VA) | September 28, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

It's very cool that our young players get to experience a pennant race on the last weekend. With any luck, this experience will be relevant to them when we're in the driver's seat in a few years.

I was furious that the Phillie fans came to RFK last week and chanted "this is our house" as they took 3 of 4. This could be the start of a great long-term rivalry. Let's make them pay.

Posted by: JimB | September 28, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I totally see the point Hendo, but the Phillies had some wiggle room with runs. In that case, I'd say he's on probation and he stays in the game until he puts two men on base.

Given the stress Manuel had put the bullpen through the previous three games that amazing hit strings ended up being all that secured victory for the Phils (and some help from Jesus Colome), the bullpen could have used the break.

I'm taking it from a Philly fan's testimony during the game that he's been doing this sort of "[bone]headed" move all year. I suggested that maybe he was channeling LaRussa and out-thinking himself.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Wigi, I think the basic "doubles defense" has the first and third basemen guarding the lines (so that a ground ball cannot get between them and the bag), and the outfielders deep (so they can cut off any balls in the gaps). I don't think the outfielders necessarily shade towards the lines. Having said that, teams also shift according to spray charts and the way they intend to pitch to specific batters, so you could see any number of modified defenses that involved guarding one or more lines and/or gaps and not others.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | September 28, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Your predictions, faNATic, while reasonable, will test the limits of institutional memory.

New York, while assuredly not alone, is very much a "what have you done for me lately?" kind of town.

I won't even try to characterize Philly. That way lies madness.

Posted by: Hendo | September 28, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't know Hendo, you seemed to do a pretty good job right there...

"That way lies madness."

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 28, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

"If the injuries to starters can be traceable to coaches' errors, then I ask permission to revise and extend my remarks."

I don't think an injury sustained by a player on the field could ever be traceable to a coach. Except if a coach tackled a player to keep him off an umpire and he ended up blowing an ACL or something like that. But when on earth would such a weird thing ever happen in real life?

Posted by: Section 419 | September 28, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

"Jose Guillen! Sit! Stay!"

Posted by: Anonymous | September 28, 2007 5:09 PM | Report abuse

New thread, with Manny news.

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 28, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Lots of pitching injuries around both leagues this year (most years?). Not just arms, but other body parts (poor Colome. Imagine having your injured hindquarters served up for inspection and consideration by the public eye. Or Cordero, all discussion of shaky saves aside. His Exorcism outburst has also been passed over with a fine-toothed comb. Ewwww.) Anyhow, for example, the Yankees' starting rotation was hurting for much of the first half of the season from a variety of injuries. That, and probably due to injuries teamwide, cost one of their conditioning coaches his job.

Posted by: samantha7 | September 28, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

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