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OC Register: Alexander: There’s no World Series hangover for Astros

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ANAHEIM — The concept of a World Series hangover is not a thing, at least in the Houston Astros’ clubhouse these days. Which is to be expected.

World Series fatigue? That, in contrast to any nebulous theory of reduced motivation or additional satisfaction at winning a championship, makes more sense as a potential danger.

When the Astros celebrated on the field at Dodger Stadium on the last day of the 2017 season, it was Nov. 1. For most of their peers throughout the major leagues, the preparation for 2018 had already begun.

For George Springer, the World Series MVP, there were banquets and celebrations and awards ceremonies, with a wedding mixed in. And somewhere in all of that, he had to make time to prepare, physically and mentally, for the defense of that championship.

“You played an extra month,” he said Wednesday. “It’s a lot more physical and mental wear and tear on your body. And you know you’ve got to get back in (and work), and as opposed to having a normal offseason you know you have a shorter offseason to prepare your body.

“So it’s definitely not (an aftereffect) because you won. It’s because you played a little bit longer than everybody else did. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

If there is an aftereffect, it hasn’t shown up yet. Houston improved to 28-17 and is two games ahead of the Angels in the AL West after Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory.

The Astros might not have the sheer cannon-power of the Yankees and Red Sox, again the beasts of the AL East. But they have baseball’s best pitching staff, statistically, and particularly the game’s three hottest starting pitchers right now: Justin Verlander (5-2, 1.05 ERA, .145 opponents’ batting average after Wednesday night’s complete game shutout), winter acquisition Gerrit Cole (4-1, 1.75, .166) and Charlie Morton (5-0, 2.03, .175).

Poor Dallas Keuchel. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner has a 3-5 record, 3.10 ERA and .225 opponents’ average and must feel like an underachiever around this bunch. Then again, his ERA in his past three starts is 1.64, so he might be catching up.

Manager A.J. Hinch said he didn’t do a lot at the outset of spring training to compensate for the short winter while acknowledging that it was something to be aware of. He chatted about it with other managers, such as 2016 World Series participants Joe Maddon of the Cubs and Terry Francona of the Indians, and kicked around ideas with his Houston brethren, Texans coach Bill O’Brien and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni.

But ultimately he fell back on what he knows about his players. And when it was mentioned that shortstop Carlos Correa said he only took three weeks off after the World Series and that a bunch of his teammates were also working out right away, the manager didn’t seem surprised.

Amused, maybe.

“It’s great to be in your 20s, isn’t it?” he cracked. “I think we were all young and energetic when we were in our 20s.”

Maybe that’s the Astros’ secret weapon. Springer is 28. Jose Altuve, the reigning league MVP, turned 28 a little over a week ago. Correa is 23, Alex Bregman 24, Cole and closer Ken Giles 27, outfielder Derek Fisher 24, outfielder Marwin Gonzalez 29. The recovery time in those cases is a bit quicker than it would be for a bunch of 30-somethings.

And they are armed with the knowledge of how it feels to win and what goes into it.

“A lot of people (think) just because you won something means that you have to change,” Springer said. “And our team hasn’t done anything differently this year than we did last year, except we accomplished our goal and we know what it takes to get there, we know the sacrifices that have to (be) made. You understand the work that has to go into it, and then you play from there.”

But there’s a delicate balance.

“You have to let your body rest,” he said. “You have to let your mind rest. This is a long year. We play a crazy amount of games … I felt like I was ready (when spring training began), but it also felt like we’d just stopped playing about three days ago.”

But that gold World Series championship banner hanging in Minute Maid Park is at once a reminder and a motivator.

So this is what the Angels and the rest of the AL West will be dealing with over the next few months: Youth, energy, knowledge of what it takes to win, great pitching and a front office that isn’t hesitant to add more talent to that mix; see Verlander last August, and Cole this past winter.

Could that 2017 workload be an issue at the end of the Astros’ 2018 season? It’s certainly possible.

But at this point, I think it’s safe to say quality pitching is a great hangover cure. (If, you know, there really was such a thing.)


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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