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Houston looking ahead after winning first World Series
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) The celebration is over for the Houston Astros after winning their first World Series last season.
They don't want to think or talk about 2017. And they certainly aren't dwelling on their big win.
The Astros believe the only way to build on their success is by winning again in 2018.
"These guys are not satisfied with what happened and they want to ... take a great team and make it legendary," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We're a great team, with great accomplishments. We're not legendary yet. And I think they all desire to be legendary."
That sentiment was on display on Wednesday when the team's marketing department unveiled the theme for the season of: "Never Settle," words that will adorn their website, Twitter account and ballpark.
"The plan that Jim Crane had in 2011 when he hired me and bought this team was to get the Astros relevant as soon as possible and then win multiple championships," Luhnow said of the Astros' owner. "So we're on our way to our goal. We certainly by no stretch have achieved it."
Houston returns almost everyone from the team that beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the title and is confident the Astros will contend again this year. Luhnow said he isn't really concerned about any area and that injuries are the only thing that he feels like can derail another deep run.
Here's what to watch for when the Astros arrive in West Palm Beach, Florida, for spring training:
NEW LOOK: The Astros bolstered an already powerful rotation by acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole in a January trade with the Pirates. The top overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft gives Houston another ace to pair with lefty Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, who the team acquired in an Aug. 31 deal last season. The Astros also added relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon; their only major loss from last year's team comes with the retirement of designated hitter Carlos Beltran.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Derek Fisher, a 24-year-old who made his debut last season, could compete for playing time in left field and Tony Kemp, who has split time between Houston and the minors over the past two seasons, could also compete there.
THEY'RE SET: This team is set in basically every area after retaining almost every key player from last year's World Championship team. The two strongest areas are the middle infield where shortstop Carlos Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve, last year's AL MVP, return to anchor the middle of the order. Correa hit .315 with 24 homers - both career-highs - last season and Altuve had his finest season, hitting a career-best and major league-leading .346 with 24 homers and 81 RBIs to become the first Astro to win MVP since Jeff Bagwell captured the NL award in 1994. The only problem with the Astros rotation is that they might have too many good arms this season. Along with Keuchel, Verlander and Cole, the Astros have young star Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, who is coming off his best season, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh. The surplus of starters may force one of the pitchers at the back end to move into a long-relief role in the bullpen.
THEY'RE NOT: Perhaps the only question for the team is who will play left field. Marwin Gonzalez could be Houston's best option at the position after playing 47 games there in 2017. But he's been the team's super utility player for the past few years and manager A.J. Hinch might choose to continue to move him around this season, giving Josh Reddick, Fisher and Kemp playing time at the position.
"We have a versatile enough roster that I can mix and match a little bit, but those at-bats and the DH at-bats are going to be the ones that are the most open," Hinch said.
ON DECK: The Astros enter camp looking set to chase another title with the roster almost completely intact and their young stars feeling confident with another year of experience under their belts. There shouldn't be many surprises this spring, but seeing how the rotation shakes out and if there is more clarity in left field will be things to look for while the Astros are in Florida.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Updated February 9, 2018