Acta aiming for winning season in '07
New Nats skipper believes his team can compete in NL
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Manager Manny Acta has heard the talk about the Nationals having a tough season in 2007 because they lack pitching and defense and will rely heavily on much younger players. But the power of positive thinking has Acta convinced that the Nationals will be better than expected.
Acta is hoping the Nationals can be the 2007 version of the Marlins. A year ago at this time, the Marlins were going through a fire sale and the so-called baseball experts predicted that Florida would lose 100 games. But the team ended up competing for a National League Wild Card berth for most of the 2006 season.
"I'm optimistic," Acta said. "I believe it's 25 [players] against 25 [players] every single day, and I believe my guys can have a good day every single day. I want to shock the world. I want to play over .500 and be playing meaningful games at the end of the season. I just cannot walk into this situation and right off the bat be penciling [this team] in last place right away. I don't care what anybody says. I'll find out on September the 30th."
Starting in Spring Training, Acta is making sure that the Nationals practice basic fundamentals, especially on the defensive end. Washington was among the league leaders in errors last year.
"There's going to be a lot of instructions, but it's quality, not quantity," he said. "We're just not going to stay out there until the sun goes down going over stuff. But we're going to stress our fundamentals in our defense because the numbers are there; they don't lie. We're going to have to work on that. Instructions are going to be there."
During the exhibition season, Acta has to make some tough decisions. He has to decide on who will make up his starting rotation. Right now, it's John Patterson as the ace, but it's a dogfight after that. Acta said there are at least eight pitchers who have a chance to make the rotation.
"Our plan will be probably split some out in Spring Training between two guys and let them battle it out," the skipper said. "We have guys there that have pitched in the Major Leagues and had success at times, like Tim Redding."
With the Nationals losing Alfonso Soriano to free agency, Acta has to look for a leadoff hitter. For now, Acta said, Felipe Lopez will take over the top spot, while second baseman Jose Vidro will follow Lopez in the batting order. Baseball sources have indicated, however, that the team will try to trade Vidro, leaving Washington with a double-play combination of Cristian Guzman at short and Lopez at second base.
But Acta seems confident that Vidro can go back to being the doubles machine that he was earlier in the decade.
"Vidro had success [hitting second] in Montreal when we were there," Acta said. "We also have to take a look at what we have, and I think that will be the best spot for him right now, because I don't want to put any pressure on Nook [Logan] yet. I want to try to give Nook a chance to become the player we think he can be, and I'm not going to put any extra pressure on him. I want to put him in a situation where he can have success in the bottom of the lineup."
This is the first time Acta has attended the Winter Meetings, and he is amazed at how people in the front office work the phones to try and make the team better.
"I'm [surprised] more deals are not getting done the way these guys work the phone and all the meetings that they have," he said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.