Stros are bringing the HEAT!

Respost from TheNYTimes
On the day of his team’s first full-squad workout as World Series champions, the Houston Astros’ architect, Jeff Luhnow, acknowledged a feeling of awe. The nameplates in the team’s spring training clubhouse, especially those above the pitchers’ lockers, were a sight to behold.
“I go in there and I can’t believe it,” said Luhnow, the general manager, naming the Astros’ rotation. “They’re all right there and they’re all ours. That’s an incredibly rich group.”
The group includes two Cy Young Award winners, Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. It includes Lance McCullers Jr., who closed out the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and Charlie Morton, who closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.
After a January trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it also includes Gerrit Cole, a former No. 1 overall draft pick with durability and an All-Star pedigree. The collection is so gaudy that Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, who would start almost anywhere else, will pitch from the bullpen.
“I honestly didn’t think that we could, potentially, be this good, just knowing what we did last year,” Keuchel said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think, in the off-season, we were going to get Gerrit. That’s pretty cool to me. We got better.”
The Astros also kept their soul this month by rewarding Jose Altuve with a five-year, $151 million contract extension, through 2024. Altuve, the A.L. most valuable player, said the Cole trade told the team that Luhnow wanted to add another trophy immediately.
“We’re aware of everything, how hard it is to win back to back,” Altuve said. “But it’s not impossible. We’re going to do the best we can to make it happen.”
No team has repeated since the Yankees won three titles in a row from 1998 through 2000. This is the longest stretch in major league history without a repeat champion, but the Astros have everything they need to change that. Only two of their starters exceeded 200 innings last season: Verlander (242⅔, including the postseason) and Cole (203). Only two position players, Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman, played more than 140 games in the regular season.
“Physically, our guys are fine,” Manager A.J. Hinch said. “The mental part of it will be our biggest challenge.”
He added: “I watched this last season when the Indians and the Cubs — both World Series teams — struggled the first month of the season. They were told they were struggling. They were told they were having a hangover. They were told they weren’t playing up to expectations. That has to lead to a ton more anxiety and a ton more tension around a team that you don’t normally have to deal with. You carry a lot of baggage around the following season from winning, and that type of attention isn’t always good attention.”
If any team is immune to prolonged struggles, though, this should be the one. The Astros, who return almost everyone, led the majors in slugging percentage in 2017 while finishing last in strikeouts. They have mastered the modern power game without the trade-off most teams must make — like drinking all the Champagne at a party yet feeling just fine the next morning.
Expect no hangover for the 2018 Astros, just another championship banner at Minute Maid Park.
The rest of the West division should not pose much of a challenge. The game’s best player, Mike Trout, begins his seventh full season with the Los Angeles Angels still seeking his first playoff victory. The Angels will try a six-man rotation behind him, being careful not to ask much from a group that includes no starting candidates who worked even 150 innings last season.
“It’s going to allow us to use depth,” starter Matt Shoemaker said. “And if it gives us extra days to help us stay fresh, it’s just going to help the team, and us.”
After a trying spring training, Shohei Ohtani, the pitching and hitting sensation from Japan, is the great unknown. The Angels upgraded their infield with Ian Kinsler at second base and Zack Cozart at third, and they begin their first full season with left fielder Justin Upton. But designated hitter Albert Pujols, 38, regressed markedly last season and still has four years left on his contract.
Despite a rash of late-spring pitching injuries, the Oakland Athleticsdon’t feel like a last-place team anymore. They found long-term solutions by putting Matts on their infield corners — Matt Olson at first base and Matt Chapman at third. And the newcomers Stephen Piscotty and Jonathan Lucroy will help a lineup whose designated hitter, Khris Davis, hit 85 homers the last two seasons. (Only Giancarlo Stanton, with 86, had more.)
Could the A’s sneak up on the field and snag a playoff berth, as they did six years ago? It’s unlikely, but you never know.
“That’s putting pretty high expectations on them, but it is something we’ve discussed, certainly internally but also publicly,” General Manager David Forst said. “The ideal situation for this team would be to be like the ’12 team, and be better than expected now and then continue to get better going forward.”

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