Astros still aim high this season

HOUSTON — After the Houston Astros’ accomplishments in the first two seasons under Dusty Baker, there’s no reason the manager shouldn’t think the club can do better this season.

“Two seasons ago we were one win away from playing in the World Series and last season we were two wins away from winning it,” Baker said. “I like to believe in natural progression, so the natural progression has to be that we win it.”

Last year, the Astros reached the World Series for the third time in five seasons but lost to the Braves in six games. Houston also lost the World Series in 2019 after winning its only title in 2017 in a season marred by the sign-stealing scandal involving the club.

Now, the Astros will try to continue their recent triumphal march without Puerto Rican superstar Carlos Correa, after the shortstop immigrated to Minnesota as a free agent.

Correa, the top pick in the 2012 draft, had played his entire seven-year career with the Astros, becoming the face and undisputed leader of the team.

Despite Correa’s departure, the Astros are confident they will compete again, having most of the players from the previous season, in which they went 95-67 before winning the West Division title. the American League for the fourth time in five years.

“We’ve got a lot of great players in this locker room,” left fielder Michael Brantley said. “We all know what we need to do in order to be ready for this season and we will continue to play at a high level as a team.”

For his part, Venezuelan second baseman José Altuve said: “I think we have another chance to go pretty far this season.”

The Astros didn’t make spectacular free-agent signings to make up for Correa’s departure, but general manager James Click said he didn’t think it was necessary considering the roster they have.

“I think we have quite a bit of variation in the relief corps and in the rotation, and we feel really good about the group of position players that we have,” he added. “It’s a roster that we feel very good about.”

In the last two full seasons – not counting 2020, which was shortened by the pandemic – Altuve has reached 31 home runs, the most in his career. The short Venezuelan star has shown without a doubt that he has power with the wood.

But in this new campaign, he will try to be the player of yesteryear.

Altuve had 200 or more hits to lead the American League in four straight seasons beginning in 2014. However, he hasn’t hit more than 169 in a season since then.

His average has also dropped, after being batting champion in 2014, 16 and 17.

“I fell in love with home runs the last two years,” he said. “This year the home runs will be fine, but I want to be more productive, I want to get on base, get back to my game, hit some hits. If the home runs come, that’s great, but I’m not going to try to hit them all the time.”

The most exciting addition to this team is the return of ace Justin Verlander. A two-time American League Cy Young winner, the starter hasn’t pitched in the majors since the opening game of the 2020 season.

He was injured in that start and has been out for Tommy John surgery.

The 39-year-old veteran has looked good this offseason, but Baker recently said he won’t start the opening game because changes to his schedule would have to be made.

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Astros still aim high this season