Acta fired by Cleveland

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Acta fired by Cleveland

By TOM WITHERS CLEVELAND (AP) -- One month, one miserable month wiped out almost everything Manny Acta did for three years. "That month just crushed our hopes," Acta said. And cost him his second job as a major league manager. Acta was fired Thursday by the Cleveland Indians, who collapsed from contention with a 5-24 record in August, the worst month in the franchise's 112-year history. Acta, hired in 2009 after two tough seasons in Washington, paid the steepest price for the Indians' stunning slide that dropped them to last place in the AL Central. It certainly wasn't all Acta's fault, but he took the fall. During the club's August meltdown, Acta tried everything he could to turn things around. He changed his starting lineup, called team meetings, altered routines -- all to no avail. Once the Indians began to slip in the standings, there was nothing the 43-year-old Acta could do to stop them. And with six games left in this disappointing season, the Indians, who are just 21-50 in the second half, decided to begin moving forward without Acta. "I had a great three years here," he said on a conference call. "I have no regrets and no bitterness. I gave my best and that's all I can do." Acta went 214-266 in nearly three seasons with the Indians, who were within 3 1-2 games of first on July 26 following a shocking comeback win at home over Detroit ace Justin Verlander. However, they lost the following day and would eventually lose 11 straight games. A season that began with so much hope turned to despair. "My job was to make us better," Acta said. "We didn't get better." General manager Chris Antonetti announced Acta's firing on an off day before the Indians opened their final homestand against Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox. If there is any solace to Acta it's that his final two games were road wins over the second-place White Sox, who are chasing Detroit for the division title. Acta felt he never lost his clubhouse and praised his players for continuing to play hard when the season unraveled. Bench coach Sandy Alomar, a six-time All-Star catcher for the Indians and fan favorite, will replace Acta on an interim basis for the last six games of 2012. Antonetti called Alomar a "primary candidate" to possibly replace Acta as Cleveland's next manager but wouldn't label him the front-runner. The 46-year-old Alomar has been considered for previous openings in Toronto, Boston and with the Chicago Cubs. He would seem to fit perfectly with what the Indians are looking for. "Sandy brings a lot to the table," Antonetti said. "He's obviously been a managerial candidate in other places and I'm confident he will be a primary candidate. Where he will fit among the alternatives, I don't think it's fair for me to speculate at this point." Antonetti would not comment on the possibility former Red Sox manager Terry Francona is on the club's list of candidates. Acta hired Alomar and feels he will be a solid major league manager. "I know Sandy is a very good baseball man," Acta said. "He was very helpful to me over the last three years." Acta laughed when he asked if Alomar should replace him. "If I'm not good enough to be the manager," he said with a chuckle, "don't ask me to be the general manager." Some key decisions by Antonetti that backfired contributed to the Indians' struggles this season, and the GM didn't duck his share of responsibility in Cleveland's collapse. "Manny's not the only one to blame," Antonetti said. "We need to really look hard organizationally at how we can get better, especially at the major league level because our performance was not what we expected and not what we hoped. We have higher expectations and we need to do a better job of identifying some of those solutions." Antonetti said following recent discussions with team president Mark Shapiro and owner Paul Dolan, the decision to dismiss Acta was made Wednesday night. Acta met Antonetti at Progressive Field at 1 p.m. on Thursday. With upcoming player and coaches meetings, Antonetti felt it was unfair to keep Acta around as the team planned ahead. "Those meetings will be forward looking," Antonetti said. "We thought it best, and out of respect for Manny, to allow him to move on." Acta was caught off guard by the news. "I was surprised," he said. "I wasn't expecting it, but when you play the way we played, anything can happen." It didn't help Acta's cause that the Indians had several players underperform while others couldn't stay healthy this season. Former All-Star center fielder Grady Sizemore, who was signed to a one-year, 5 million free-agent contract in November despite missing most of the past three seasons with injuries, never got healthy enough to play. Designated hitter Travis Hafner missed several months with a bad back. And, Antonetti's major acquisition in 2011 of ace Ubaldo Jimenez failed to pay off as the right-hander went 9-17 with a 5.55 ERA. Also, despite the obvious need for a right-handed hitting outfielder, the Indians never signed one and Antonetti was unable to find any external help at the trading deadline. As the losses in August and September mounted. Antonetti realized change was needed. "We always remained hopeful that our play would improve and we would turn things around in the second half," he said. "Unfortunately as the days dwindled, it didn't happen." Acta refused to use an insufficient roster as an excuse for losing. "I'm not going to sit here and point fingers or second guess myself," he said. "I didn't go to the ballpark and wing it. It's a little disappointing when you can't win as often as you want. But that's the game, I guess." Acta believes he has grown following stints with the Nationals and Indians. He's confident another team will give him a chance. "I want to manage again, but right now I want to go home to Florida and be a father, a husband, a son and a brother," he said. "I'll keep my head up and move forward."

Nats Stock Watch: Strasburg establishing himself as one of game's top arms

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Nats Stock Watch: Strasburg establishing himself as one of game's top arms

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 4-3

Team slash: .256/.326/.415

Team ERA: 2.61

Runs per game: 4.42 

 

STOCK UP 

Daniel Murphy, 2B: .393 AVG, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1.076 OPS

It was just another ho-hum week for the sizzling Murphy, who posted five multi-hit efforts in the last seven games. In fact, in 46 games played this season, he's now logged more than one hit an astounding 24 times. So we're way past the point of this being considered merely a hot streak; this is nearly two months' worth of consistency from the Nats' second baseman. Dusty Baker said recently that he believed Murphy has been the acquisition of the year in baseball. There's not much room to argue. 

Ben Revere, CF: .450 AVG, 5 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB

You know things are going well for Revere these days when he's trotting around the bases after hitting a rare home run. His solo shot in Tuesday's 7-4 win over the New York Mets was just another sign that the Nats' leadoff man is starting to regain his pre-oblique injury form. But aside from the long ball, he's starting to do all the things a prototypical table-setter is supposed to do: see pitches, hit line drives into the gaps and be a pest on the base paths. That's what the Nats thought they were getting when they acquired Revere last winter from the Torono Blue Jays, and it looks like that's what he's becoming once again. 

Stephen Strasburg, SP: 2-0, 12.2 IP, 3 ER, 21 K

He doesn't get mentioned with the likes of Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw, but Strasburg is putting together the type of season that unequivocally cements his status as one of the game's top arms. He's now 8-0 with a 2.79 ERA, and his 86 strikeouts on the season are second in the majors to the aforementioned Kershaw.

So what's the difference for the 27-year-old right hander this year? For one, he's stayed healthy and continued the momentum that was established late last year after he came off the disabled list. He's also added a slider/cutter to his repertoire to keep hitters off balance, especially in fastball counts.

However, you don't get to 8-0 without a little bit of good fortune, either, and Strasburg has certainly that: In his 10 starts this season, the Nats offense has averaged 6.7 runs per game. Still, he's undoubtedly pitched well, so there's not much one can do to try to cheapen his fast start.

STOCK DOWN

Bryce Harper, RF: .190 AVG, .507 OPS

When the Nats' skipper feels the need to give Harper a "mental rest day" against a chief division rival like the Mets, that's a telltale sign that things aren't going so well for the reigning NL MVP. Harper's frustration has been quite evident for the last week; he apparently took extra batting practice immediately following Monday's 7-1 loss, and then the next day went out onto the field early — a rarity for 23-year-old slugger — to take even more hacks.

Harper's slump is unique in that, despite his struggles, opposing teams are still pitching around him. He's hitting .195 in May despite a .454 on-base percentage, a very Barry Bonds-ian gap between his average and OBP. And like Bonds, Harper is only getting about one or two pitches he can work with per game, but he's been unable to take advantage of those of late. 

Despite lopsided games, Nats and Mets remain closely matched

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Despite lopsided games, Nats and Mets remain closely matched

After waiting six long weeks for the first matchup between the Nationals and Mets of 2016, they played six games all within a stretch of nine days with each team taking three of them. 

That leaves them at .500 against each other, which is as close a head-to-head record as you can possibly get. Yet despite that fact, consider this: three of their games have been blowouts, two were shutouts and one - Tuesday's 7-4 Nats' win - was never really that close.

The season series has been an eventful one so far, yet none of their six contests has provided the late-game thrills we witnessed last year, at least when it comes to testing the Nationals' bullpen. Now we wait another full month before they square off again on June 27.

Because of the unusual results, the Nationals could only really draw conclusions from the overall record when asked about the rivalry after Wednesday's 2-0 loss.

"We've gone 3-3, .500," former Met Daniel Murphy said. "It's a good club. I think this is the way everybody kind of drew it up at the beginning of the year."

"It makes us about even," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've matched up good against them and they've matched up good against us."

The Nationals and Mets remain close in the NL East with just a half-game separating them in the standings, the Nats sitting just ahead of the reigning division champions. As Murphy said, both teams are about where they were expected to be.

How they got there, though, has perhaps been unexpected. The Nationals have paced a 28-19 record despite Bryce Harper hitting just .245 and Ryan Zimmerman batting .236. Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth have come around lately, but have not been themselves for the majority of this season. Given how healthy the Nats' lineup has been, it may come as a surprise they rank about average as an offense.

The Nationals' starting rotation has been as good as any in baseball, but their lineup is working to find consistency. And until we see Jonathan Papelbon and others in more high-pressure games, the jury is still out on their bullpen.

The Mets are in second place despite going through a whole lot more than that. Their pitching staff has seen Matt Harvey stumble through the worst stretch of his career and Jacob deGrom deal with velocity issues. The Mets are 23rd in runs scored and just lost Lucas Duda for who knows how long with a stress fracture in his back. 

For the Mets to be where they are is impressive all things considered. And, like the Nationals, it still feels like we haven't seem them at their best.

Neither team has fully hit their stride and neither truly separated themselves in the few times they've played. 

NL East: Mets vet Wright says Harvey should have spoken to media

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NL East: Mets vet Wright says Harvey should have spoken to media

Mets pitcher Matt Harvey didn't only duck the media on Tuesday night after his start, he also avoided them on Wednesday morning before the team's series finale at Nationals Park. Reporters approached him, but he declined. At some point he'll talk, of course, but he has essentially been delaying the inevitable.

The backlash for Harvey in New York for not talking was strong. One Mets columnist even said the move speaks to Harvey's entitlement and went into detail about how he's been enabled by the Mets. 

Nationals manager Dusty Baker admitted on Wednesday that it may have made things easier for Harvey if he had addressed the media. And now Mets teammate David Wright has said about the same. 

"Accountability is big and I think [Harvey] just had a bit of a lapse in judgement," Wright told the New York Post. "I think the consensus is we should all be accountable for what we do on the baseball field."

Wright has been with the Mets for 13 years and has a strong voice in their clubhouse. It wouldn't be surprising at all if he is speaking for a large number of Harvey's teammates with those words.

Whether Mets fans actually care may be another story, but we now know how at least one of his teammates feels.