Don’t ask Astros’ pitcher Dallas Keuchel about a hangover.
Back-to-backs aren’t common in Major League Baseball. In fact, the only franchise to repeat and defend as World Champions in recent memory are the New York Yankees from 1998 through 2000. And that was a three-peat! The Toronto Blue Jays in the early 1990’s were last before the Bronx Bombers. The Astros have to defy the odds once again.
When starting ace Dallas Keuchel was asked about a potential hangover season by Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post. This was in reference to the Chicago Cubs returning almost the same team from their 2016 championship and winning 11 fewer games, he responded with the following:
"“I firmly believe we have better players.” “We’re not the Cubs.” He added adamantly."
That’s a mighty big target to place on the back of a young team who’s defending their first championship in the 55 years of franchise history. But who are we kidding? The Astros are a clear favorite to win it all again. But why are the players so confident?
Buying into the motto. #NeverSettle.
Last year, the Houston Astros motto hashtag ”Earn It” and they went out there and ”Earned It.” Everything about the 2017 magical season was about earning it. From gut-wrenching performances to a sluggish August and a hard-fought postseason proved the Astros had what it took. Along with their sabermetric approach, the Astros proved with an unconventional style of baseball that they could win it all.
The rest of the league is hoping the Astros encounter a hangover year. The Astros on the other hand rally around the slogan “Never Settle.” As if one championship isn’t good enough they want to go out and defend. Every World Series Champion’s goal should be to defend, so why is it so difficult? The NFL and NBA have more back to backs, why is the MLB so different?
What exactly is ”Never Settle”?
To each player, it means something different. To Jose Altuve, it might mean ripping another MVP in route to a back to back because two is better than one. For Lance McCullers, it may mean proving that he could be a crucial piece to this starting rotation despite the additions to bolster this roster. To A.J. Hinch, ”Never Settle” could be exploring other unconventional ways to squeeze out more than 101 wins this season. When also asked about a hangover, Hinch stated:
"“If these are the questions and this is the misery we have to go through — worrying about hangovers and fatigue and all that — then sign me up for it again in 2019.”"
To the fans, ”Never Settle” could mean attending more games and buying more gear. It could even suggest reading more Climbing Tal’s Hill articles because they just can’t get enough Astros in their lives.
Where is this confidence coming from?
Players like Altuve and McCullers aren’t going to let a hangover hinder their sights on a second World Series run. While the rest of the contenders are getting better, the Astros haven’t taken a step back at all. They have bought into the mantra of ”Never Settle.”
When teams suffer from the World Series hangover, it’s generally because other teams got better while they lost few key pieces. The Astros got better this offseason. They didn’t miss a single part of the championship starting lineup. They added a couple of relievers in Joe Smith and Hector Rondon. And after rumors in chasing Yu Darvish and Jake Arietta didn’t pan out, they grabbed Gerrit Cole. Does this look like a franchise who’s taking a step back?
The Astros title defense is one of the shortest in MLB history. It will be 148 days between Game 7 of the 2017 World Series and Opening Day on March 29th.
The clubhouse seems to be managing this reasonably well. Knowing their time was limited in the offseason doesn’t bother them. In fact, they are using this shortened period as momentum. Ending the season as the hottest team in the MLB, adding key players and hoping to start 2018 with a hot streak. That’s the best possible scenario because the players now know how it feels to manage the season and pace themselves.
Keuchel’s mini-jab at the Cubs wasn’t the only thing that made headlines. Just a month ago, Justin Verlander threw some shade at a New York media outlet crowning the Yankees as the best of the 2018 American League. Chris Russo, the ‘Mad Dog,’ of MLB Network shared his opinion in the tweet below.
This is expected. No MLB teams spend all offseason hoping to finish second. The Astros know what they have to do and they know 29 teams are chasing them. The confidence is there, and the rest of the MLB knows that.