With the Nationals on the cusp of winning their third series in a row, the inevitable questions have to be asked.
Is the sudden turn-around the result of the firing of Manny Acta? Is Jim Riggleman making that much of a difference? Is it possible that this team would be 10, 15, or even 20 games better in the win column, if only they had fired Acta and put Riggleman in charge on day one?
Sorry, Fizzleman fans. The answers are no, no, and hell no.
First, it must again be noted that Riggleman has had the luxury of facing some miserable opposition. The Padres and Mets are AAA teams at best. The Brewers are now below .500, and their pitching is extremely suspect after Yovani Gallardo, whom they will see today.
Still, you say, this team has found ways to lose to bad teams all year. You can't take these wins away from them.
And I don't. Some of it is that the bats have heated up again. Riggleman didn't do anything to teach Josh Willingham how to hit two grand slams in a row.
Some of it is that that John Lannan is on a wicked hot streak, saving the bullpen and sending a positive ripple effect through the team.
Some of it is pure regression to the mean.
And indeed some of it is the managerial change, I suspect. Not that Riggleman is any better than Acta (he's not), but it's hard not to tune out a guy after this much losing. It doesn't matter that the losing is a function of the terrible roster. Acta's just too closely associated with too many bad things that have happened over the last two and a half years.
That's why I said at the time that it was time to liberate Manny from this dealth march. Riggleman won't say anything different, but hearing the same thing from a new voice can create a fresh perspective. Just starting fresh with a clean slate can create a short-term uptick in morale.
Is it a long-term solution? No. Is there any reason to think that things would be one iota different if Riggleman had managed from day one instead of Acta? I don't see that.
But unfortunately the narrative is set, and we'll probably have to live with it forever now. Acta was a push-over, and the team lost a lot. Then Riggleman yelled at them, and the team won more. Ergo, Manny sucked, and yelling works.
And now the only question is, is Riggleman tough enough, and if not, is Marlo Stanfield available?
Unfortunately, given the talent in the organization, there's still a lot more losing than winning in this team's future. And people tend to tune out yelling a lot faster than they tune out patient, rational level-headedness. The impressive thing is that it took two years of hopeless beatings for the team to quit on Acta. Put a screamer in there, and the team will be throwing in the towel in weeks, if not days.
Of course, that has little to do with Riggleman, who isn't a screamer, and is taking more or less the same relentlessly optimistic approach that Acta did. That doesn't really fit the narrative though, so that doesn't get mentioned much.
Oh, and there's one other thing that happened right around the time this recent hot streak started. Scott Olsen was lost for the season. Don't forget about that.