Have you ever gone a year without a date? Or a job? Or a date and a job? Or a date and a job and a shower?
If so, then you were the emotional, economic and hygienic equivalent of baseball's National League West, the pride of the great unwashed in 2005. No NL West team clinched a winning record last year until the San Diego Padres won their regular-season finale.
The breakdown defied recent history: Until last season, the division had been the only one in baseball to have at least one 90-win team every year since the 1995 work stoppage. The NL West also boasted three winning teams in eight of its previous nine seasons.
Baseball will let the NL West sit with the cool kids at lunch again if the division can return to its previous form. Here's the early prognosis on the division's quest for respect:
Arizona powered its way to some serious leapfrog last season, improving from 51 victories in 2004 to 77 without Randy Johnson on its roster. The Diamondbacks got 79 homers from their corner infield spots, up from 33 in 2004. However, Arizona's respectable 77-85 record disguised the fact that they were outscored by a run per game. That's right -- this NL West team overachieved.
Aside from 25-year-old Chad Tracy, most of Arizona's power is aging (Tony Clark, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green) or was traded (Troy Glaus). The Diamondbacks have an emerging presence on the mound in Brandon Webb and his 124 ERA+ (park-adjusted, according to Baseball-Reference.com, with the major league average being 100) and 172 strikeouts in 229 innings last year. But there is little to support him beyond newly-acquired poet Miguel Batista (109 ERA+), who pitched out of Toronto's bullpen last season, and 40-year-old Orlando Hernandez (87 ERA+). Guys like Russ Ortiz (64 ERA+) are what put the NL West in therapy to begin with.
Can they win 90? Not impossible, if they start strongly and mortgage their promising farm system. Can they win 82? Their pitching seems to argue against even this modest goal.
The Rockies haven't had a .500 record since 2000, and they tied their team record for losses with 95 in '05. Their latest attempt to solve the Mile High koan has been an exploration of youth: of the 44 men who wore Colorado togs last season, 36 had yet to turn 30 years old.
Todd Helton, ninth last year in the NL with a 144 OPS+ (park-adjusted, according to Baseball-Reference.com, with the major league average being 100), despite recently revealed back trouble, should remain potent with the bat. Beyond that, incremental maturation by the twentysomethings on the roster is about all Colorado can hope for. The Rockies' major offseason acquisitions were aging relief pitchers Ray King and Jose Mesa.
Can they win 90? Only if the rest of the NL West goes into rehab. Can they win 82? They're about a decade overdue to catch some breaks. And if you believe that familiarity breeds contention, here's your team.