- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2007

Manny Acta is by nature an incredibly upbeat man. The Washington Nationals’ rookie manager always looks for the positives out of his team’s ballgames, no matter the result, and he tends to frown on those who harp on the negatives.

Now, there have been plenty of negative developments through the first two months of the Nationals’ season, but Acta does have a point. For a team that was expected to challenge the sport’s all-time worst clubs, Washington actually has exceeded expectations to date.

So this seems as good a time as any to cut all the negative talk and run through a list of the eight biggest positives about the 2007 Nationals …

1. The future starting rotation is beginning to emerge.

The organization’s No. 1 problem area during spring training hasn’t been nearly as big a problem as expected. Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann established themselves as key pieces with their outstanding performances in April, and though both went on the disabled list, they’re close to returning. Rookie Matt Chico has steadily improved and hasn’t been overwhelmed by his rush to the majors. Minor leaguers Collin Balester and John Lannan are dominating at Class AA Harrisburg and could find themselves in Washington come September.

2. Acta has proved his worth.

After a lengthy managerial search last fall that at times looked chaotic from the outside, the Nationals have shown they made the right choice in Acta. This team didn’t need Joe Girardi or Lou Piniella or Dusty Baker. It needed a young, upbeat, first-time manager who could relate to all the kids on the roster and grow with them over time. Acta is exactly what this team needs.

3. The fill-ins have done an admirable job.

When four-fifths of the starting rotation went down in early May, this team looked doomed. Not so. Despite their lack of pedigrees, Chico, Micah Bowie, Mike Bacsik, Jason Simontacchi and Levale Speigner have held their own and kept Washington competitive.

4. Chief has returned.

After an abysmal start to the season, Chad Cordero has bounced back and re-established himself as a reliable closer capable of getting the job done in most games. There will be increased talk about his trade value in the coming month, but the Nationals now know they’re in good shape even if they decide to keep him.

5. Cristian Guzman is alive!

Who in their right mind could have foreseen this: Guzman, quite possibly the worst player in the majors the last two years, has emerged as one of the top offensive players in the National League. Can he keep it up? Who knows? For now, just enjoy it.

6. The Nationals beat up on aces.

There’s no logical explanation for this one, but over the last two months, Washington has twice won games started by Padres ace Jake Peavy, twice beaten Braves future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, once toppled Phillies phenom Cole Hamels and now taken down Twins Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

7. Veterans have produced.

Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard have been everything the Nationals could have asked for and more. It’s easy to forget that both players were signed after spring training opened, and both came to the organization with significant baggage. Two months later, none of that matters because both guys have been outstanding players and even better human beings.

8. The 1962 Mets are safe.

Nope, the Nationals won’t be setting any marks for futility. Those baseball “insiders” who predicted 120-plus losses? Not gonna happen. Washington is on pace to win 67 games this year … only four fewer than last season’s team.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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