The regular season hasn’t started yet, but the Houston Astros are already facing questions about their chances of repeating as World Series champions. In 2017, they picked up an early lead in the American League West and never let it go, ending the season with a 21-game lead over the second place Los Angeles Angels. But after playing into November and starting the regular season earlier than ever, are they doomed to struggle out of the gate, as the 2017 Chicago Cubs did after they won the World Series?
Dallas Keuchel doesn’t think so. Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post interviewed Keuchel and several other Astros players about how they’re handling the World Series hangover, i.e. the exhaustion after the busy offseason that typically follows a championship. And Keuchel wasn’t having any comparisons between the 2018 Astros and the 2017 Cubs.
“We’re not the Cubs,” Keuchel fired back when presented with that example. “I firmly believe we have better players.”
Keuchel might not want to entertain any comparisons between the Astros and the Cubs, but it’s inevitable. Because it’s hard to look at this young Astros team, a team that was so busy after climbing that long-attempted World Series mountain, and not think about the 2017 Cubs. The Cubs looked like they were victims of the World Series hangover, struggling at the start and spending the season with the Milwaukee Brewers nipping at their heels. They made it to the playoffs, but were eliminated in the NLCS.
The World Series seasons of both the Astros and the Cubs were perfect in their own ways. Both teams got major division leads and never looked back. They both overcame tough competitors in the postseason to win that trophy. Their journeys weren’t that different, all things considered. That doesn’t mean the effects of the dreaded World Series hangover will last into the regular season, but the exhaustion is real.
The similarities don’t end with their World Series seasons. Both teams are stuffed to the bursting with young talent, but not without a dash of veteran expertise. Their pitching rotations are stacked. The Cubs have Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Jon Lester. The Astros have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel. They each have a Rookie of the Year and an MVP. It seems like they’re pretty evenly matched.
The Cubs learned right away that 2017 wasn’t going to be like 2016. The Astros seem like they’re ready to handle it, though no one will know until the regular season gets underway. But it’s conceivable that the Cubs and Astros could end up facing each other in the World Series at the end of the season. If that happens, Keuchel has a head start on the trash talk. But the Cubs have a head start on their World Series hangover — they’re already done with it. Keuchel may think the Astros are better than the Cubs, but it’s up to the Astros to prove it.
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