Manny Acta Fired

Farid RushdiAnalyst IJuly 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 07:  Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann #27 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 7, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  The Nationals won 11-9.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Note: It's 2:00 a.m. Eastern time and multiple sources are saying that Manny Acta has been fired and will be replaced by bench coach Jim Riggleman. The story below was written before this news broke.

My only response at this point is what took so long? More later this morning.

Sometimes, politicians tell the truth, taxes go down, and beautiful women really mean it when they say, “Oh, size doesn’t matter.”

And sometimes, the Washington Nationals play up to their potential.

Wrapped around a surprising 13-2 magical mauling of the Houston Astros on Saturday were three back-to-reality losses to Houston, 9-4 on Thursday, 6-5 on Friday and Sunday’s 5-0 effort that seemed mailed in as the team savored their first real win of the road trip.

The starting pitching, while not perfect, was certainly good enough to give the Nationals a chance to win each game.

Let’s take a closer look at their efforts in recent weeks.

On Thursday, John Lannan, the most trusted pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation, gave up five runs and 11 hits in just five innings as none of his pitches were working.

That said, you know you have a great pitcher when, after getting hit that hard, his ERA is still just 3.70. In his last eight games, dating back to May 25, Lannan's ERA is 3.25, almost a run below the league average.

Scott Olsen pitched on Friday and didn’t fare much better, allowing four runs in just six innings. But since returning from the disabled list, Olsen has pitched three games and dropped his ERA from 7.23 to 6.03. His ERA since his return is a solid 3.68.

Craig Stammen stymied the Astros on Saturday, allowing just nine hits and two runs in a complete game victory. Probably the least likely member of the rotation, Stammen has a sparkling 2.45 ERA in his last three starts.

Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched on Sunday, has been brilliant recently. In his five previous starts, totaling 34 innings, the 24-year-old has an other-worldly 2.38 ERA with 32 strikeouts. On Sunday, Zimmermann had another quality start, giving up three runs in 6.1 innings.

In the last 21 games started by Zimmermann, Stammen, Olsen and Lannan, the quartet combined for 133 innings and a 3.07 ERA.

And in those 21 games, the Washington Nationals are 9-12.

Think about that for a moment.

These four starters, who at the start of the season had a combined three years of major league experience, kept their team in virtually every game they pitched. And yet they are a combined three games under .500 during that period.

How is that possible?

The bullpen is one of the very worst in baseball history.

In those 21 games, John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann and Craig Stammen pitched 71 percent of the team’s innings but gave up just 36 percent of the runs.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

And the offense, once one of the top five in the National League, averaged less than four runs per game during that span while the pitching staff gave up almost seven runs.

Kind of makes you wonder how the Nationals won even nine of those 22 games.

Ross Detwiler, whose call-up in May was supposed to be for just a game or two, has been hit hard recently and was returned to Syracuse on Sunday for more seasoning.

Garrett Mock, who was a converted reliever with Washington earlier this year, regained his starting role with Syracuse and has been the most effective starter in the PCL over the past two months. In 10 starts since his demotion, Mock has a sterling 1.47 ERA, striking out 47 in 49 innings while walking just eight.

But it doesn’t matter how good the rotation is, or gets. The bullpen is substandard, the defense is atrocious, and the hitting is anything but timely.

I predicted 75 wins from this bunch, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a 50-win-team. Getting rid of Lastings Milledge, and getting Nyjer Morgan, was a good first step towards respectability, but even ten more moves like that one won’t make this a .500 team.

The Nationals management has to replace, besides the bullpen and the defense, themselves.

Want to take bets on that?