Acta Needs to Kick Start Nationals









Nine games into his first season as manager, Washington's Manny Acta decided it was time to give his team a pep talk - but he's still not ready to panic about the Nationals' slow start.

The Nationals (1-8) look to avoid a second straight series sweep when they wrap up a three-game set with the surging Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.

Oddsmakers have made Atlanta -1.5 point spread favorites (MLB Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 8ev total runs (View MLB Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta -1.5 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Acta called a postgame meeting after Wednesday's 8-3 loss to the Braves. The Nationals, who were swept in four games by Arizona coming into this series, are trying to avoid the first seven-game skid since June 11-18, 2004 when they were in Montreal.

"I'm not a big meeting-type guy, but I thought it was the right time," said Acta, adding that he was reassuring during the meeting, and "didn't raise my voice that high."

The Nationals are off to their worst start since the Expos had the same record through nine games in 1998. The Nationals have been outscored 61-21, have yet to score in the first three innings and have fallen behind by at least 3-0 in each contest.

"I'm not going to accept losing up until October," said Acta, who joked before the game that he wouldn't shave until his team wins again. "If I go to the All-Star break 1-81, then I'm going to say, 'Geez, maybe we are as bad as people are saying.'"

Ronnie Belliard went 3-for-4 with a two-run double, raising his average to .444 (12-for-27). Ryan Church also went 3-for-4 and has hit safely in his last eight games.

The Braves (7-1), meanwhile, are off to their best start since winning the World Series in 1995. Chipper Jones hit a two-run homer for his first RBIs of the season and Andruw Jones also connected for the second straight game.

"It means we've played well for the first eight games of the season," Chipper Jones, the Braves' only position player remaining from that championship team, said of his team's hot start. "We're not reading anything into it. We're not anointing ourselves as the team to beat."

Church's RBI double in the eighth inning off reliever Rafael Soriano ended a streak of 23 1-3 consecutive scoreless innings by the Braves' pitching staff, a run that started in the third inning of Sunday's 3-2 win over the Mets.

The Braves have not swept the Nationals franchise since July 26-28, 2005 in Atlanta.

Ace John Smoltz (1-0, 3.75 ERA) will make his third start of the season for Atlanta in the finale. He outdueled former teammate Tom Glavine on Saturday, allowing two runs in six innings of a 5-3 win over New York.

The 39-year-old right-hander is 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA in 61 career appearances, including 34 starts, against the Nationals franchise. He went 2-2 with a 3.97 ERA in five starts against them last season.

Washington will counter with Jason Bergmann (0-1, 9.82), who is looking to rebound from a shaky season debut last Thursday. The right-hander needed 50 pitches to get out of the first inning and gave up four runs while walking six in 3 2-3 innings of a 4-3 loss to Arizona.

The outing was the 45th of Bergmann's career, but just his eighth start. He is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in eight career appearances against the Braves, including 0-1 with a 6.75 in two starts, both in Washington.

by: Michael Cash - – Email Us

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