Frank Robinson can't even remember what it looked like, a lineup card taped to the dugout wall with Brad Wilkerson hitting first, Jose Vidro second, Jose Guillen behind him, Nick Johnson batting cleanup, all his players in their proper spots.
"It's been so long," Robinson said, "I really don't think about it."
All these changes were supposed to stop for the Washington Nationals after they moved from Montreal. No more "home" games in Puerto Rico. No more interminable road trips. Goodbye, finally, to the churn of change.
Yet if there was one constant surrounding the Nationals during the 88 games before the all-star break, it was upheaval, in some form, nearly every day. Three trades, seemingly countless injuries, nine starting pitchers, 44 players wandering through the clubhouse doors and introducing themselves to new teammates. At times, Robinson, the club's manager, felt as if the team suffered an injury per game. "It's an exaggeration," he said, "but not by much."
The Nationals finished the first half as one of baseball's best stories, building a 21/2-game lead in the National League East as much by improvising as by impressing. Considering the fact that Robinson has filled out an astounding 61 different batting orders -- excluding pitchers -- the team believes, given even a tiny bit of stability, it is ready to post a second half that rivals the first. There is, they believe, staying power.
"There's a long way to go, a lot more games to be played," catcher Brian Schneider said, "but we can do this."
Yet even as some injured players get ready to return -- outfielder Ryan Church and shortstop Cristian Guzman should play today in Milwaukee, when the second half begins -- the team understands that more change is likely ahead. It is in first place. It has a chance to win. And Jim Bowden, who built a reputation making trades during his decade in Cincinnati, is the general manager.
"I know there will be" changes, Guillen said, "because I know Jim."
During the first few months of the season, Bowden identified the moves he felt were necessary to give the Nationals a legitimate chance of winning the division title -- and interrupting Atlanta's string of 13 straight crowns. Yesterday, he made an attempt to address two of them by sending pitcher Zach Day and minor league outfielder J.J. Davis to Colorado for outfielder Preston Wilson, a veteran who strikes out too much but could provide much-needed power, and by signing veteran lefty Mike Stanton. In doing so, he got a jump on the frenzy that will precede the July 31 trading deadline.
"We get the players for two more weeks," Bowden said. "That's not a small consideration."
The players, too, understand the nature of the business, and of their general manager. The sense in the clubhouse before yesterday's moves was that no one is safe.
"I could be gone tomorrow," said Wilkerson, the center fielder who will give up his defensive spot to Wilson. "There's something going to happen. It would be ridiculous to say it's not. We've got a chance to do something special, and I think there's some needs that we need to fill on this ballclub, and he feels the same way. He's probably going to make that move -- if he can."
Bowden reiterated last night that while the Nationals are pursuing this year's division title, he is not willing to sacrifice what few true prospects remain in the club's farm system. If Stanton and Wilson work out, the one remaining need would be pitching depth, and while it appears likely the Nationals don't have the talent to give up to pursue prime targets such as San Francisco's Jason Schmidt and Florida's A.J. Burnett, they could target a compromise, such as Tampa Bay's Danys Baez, who is 5-2 with a 2.68 ERA out of the bullpen.
Whoever is with them, the current players understand the longer they stay in the race, the more the attention paid to them will increase.
"I know there's going to be a lot of eyes on us," Guillen said. "You know, if we lost two, three in a row, people will say stuff. But hopefully, not any of those guys is going to have to worry about that, and just go and play the game. Everybody has a different mentality here, and hopefully, they will stay strong and just play the way we've been playing."
Yet there are questions about whether playing the way they have been playing will be good enough. The Nationals have been outscored by 361-357. They are last in baseball in runs scored (4.06 per game), tied for last in homers (65), last in the National League in slugging percentage (.396). On the last day prior to the break, Robinson provided the names of three players -- Guillen, Wilkerson and third baseman Vinny Castilla -- who must get hot if the Nationals are to score more runs.
"We need to pick it up offensively, definitely," Wilkerson said. "We've been struggling to just find that consistency. It's just one game we're there, and one game we're not, and just finding consistency throughout a long period of time is going to be, probably, the deciding factor if we win this or not."
The Nationals addressed one other need yesterday by signing left-handed reliever Mike Stanton. The bullpen, which for a stretch was among the most reliable in baseball, finished the first half with the gauge on empty. Luis Ayala leads the majors with 49 appearances, and asked to rest over the last week because of a tired shoulder. Gary Majewski was dominant in May, but his ERA rose from 1.14 to 3.21 in June and July. Hector Carrasco (3-2, 2.43 ERA) has been as big a surprise as the team could have, but he is 35, and hasn't pitched at this level in several years.
There are deficiencies, and Bowden says he is committed to addressing them. "You're always trying to make your team better," he said, "but especially in this situation."
When the doors closed in the visitors clubhouse on Sunday evening, after the Nationals lost to the Philadelphia Phillies -- their fifth loss in seven games before the break -- Robinson told his club how proud he was of them in the first half. But the message was clear: They must remember what got them to this position, and improve on it, if they are to make the biggest change of all -- going from last place a year ago to a division title.
"I think we've shown the first half of the season we have staying power," Robinson said. "We won't concern ourselves with pressure from other ballclubs. The Braves made a tremendous run during the first half, and we withstood that run.
"That's the run that this division has not been standing up to in the past. The Braves just go ahead and leave everybody in the dust. And normally, the Braves winning the division title is over. We've withstood that."