Acta walks into National disaster

ON BASEBALL

August 24, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Observations, opinions and musings from this week in major league baseball:

When Manny Acta, one of baseball's straightest shooters, took the Washington Nationals' managerial job two offseasons ago, he knew it wasn't going to be easy.

But he certainly couldn't have imagined it was going to be this bad. Not after a relatively acceptable 73-89 record in 2007 - when the Nationals were supposed to be dreadful.

It's arguable as to whether injuries or opponents have crushed the Nats more this season. They are on pace to lose 105 games and counting. For much of the season their starting lineup has been unrecognizable by the casual - or even rabid - fan.

Their TV ratings have been abysmal, and they are ranked 18th in attendance (just under 30,000 per game) despite having a shiny and impressive new stadium. They lost the rights to their first-round draft pick - ninth overall - last week.

On Thursday, they broke a season-worst 12-game losing streak, a span in which they were outscored 81-26.

"I've had better days," Acta said after the 12th straight loss. "I've had better weeks. I've had better months. But I don't regret anything. We're here battling it out. I don't remember losing as many games anywhere else, but, hey, you can't erase it. You've just got to try to snap out of it."

To Acta's credit, he hasn't lost his patience, hasn't flipped over a post-game meal table or ripped players in the media. He had just one team meeting, and that was last Sunday when he told his club to not think about baseball during the following day off.

The reality is Acta and the players know the truth: They were undermanned before being hit by injuries. It's the most helpless feeling - the Orioles have been there, as in 2002 - when they know every day that they aren't as good as the team they are playing.

"We know what we're in for here," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's not like we have a $100 million team out there losing 12 in a row. We want to win just as much as any other team, but sometimes the other teams are just better."

A backstop back seat

Matt Wieters had better get to Baltimore soon, because he is now being overshadowed as an amateur, at least financially.

The Orioles' top pick in 2007 no longer holds Major League Baseball's record for highest signing bonus received by a draft pick.

In fact, he no longer holds the record for fifth picks, catchers or Atlantic Coast Conference alumni. He doesn't even hold the record for an ACC catcher picked fifth overall.

All of that now belongs to Buster Posey, who batted .463 with 26 homers, 93 RBIs and a .566 on-base percentage this year at Florida State.

The San Francisco Giants selected Posey fifth overall in the 2008 draft, and the catcher's negotiations dragged until Aug. 15, when he signed for a record $6.2 million signing bonus.

It was $50,000 more than what the top pick, high school shortstop Tim Beckham, received and $200,000 more than Wieters' record-setting bonus in 2007.

Wieters deserves at least a Christmas card from Posey. Apparently, because of Wieters' deal, Posey's camp started negotiations at $6 million and went up from there.

An uncomfortable Miggi

Everyone around here knows how much Miguel Tejada hates sitting on the bench. Now Houston Astros manager Cecil Cooper knows, too.

Cooper gave Tejada the day off Tuesday so the shortstop could rest twice in three days.

And Tejada, who had started 120 of the club's first 124 games, wasn't happy.

"What can I say?" Tejada said. "I can say I don't feel like I need a day off."

Cooper said he was glad Tejada, who had just eight extra-base hits and nine RBIs in his first 30 games after the All-Star break, is uncomfortable riding pine.

"I don't mind that," Cooper said. "If he's upset, he's upset. If he's upset, good."

Say what you want about Tejada. But he wants to play. And that's something you don't always get these days.

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