Optimism running high as Houston Astros open camp
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Jose Altuve mentioned the World Series again on the first day of spring training. This time, nobody laughed.
''I said it last year, too, but it sounded crazy,'' the Houston Astros' All-Star second baseman said Tuesday. ''Now it sounds better because of what happened last year. It was a nice season.''
The Astros fell short of the World Series four months ago. But after finishing at least 28 games out of first place in each of Altuve's first four seasons, they won 86 games in 2015, beat the New York Yankees in the wild-card game and lost 3-2 to Kansas City in the American League Divisional Series.
Fortified by the additions of starting pitcher Doug Fister and reliever Ken Giles, the full squad that worked out together for the first time has an entirely different set of expectations.
''Everybody's excited to be here,'' said shortstop Carlos Correa, the AL Rookie of the Year. ''It's a little different atmosphere from the last couple years. We're a winning team now and we know we're good.''
Management did nothing to tone down the optimism.
''The goal is pretty simple. It used to be to get better, then it was to have a winning team and to get to the playoffs,'' said general manager Jeff Luhnow. ''Now it's to win the whole thing. Nothing is really going to satisfy us this year except going the distance.''
Former Astros ace Roger Clemens, now a special assistant to Luhnow, said he can barely wait for opening day.
''Spring training is exciting and fun and full of hope, but I think we're way past that now,'' Clemens said.
Owner Jim Crane, in camp for the first workout, noticed the difference.
''This is our fifth year in camp, and when I took over we had the worst team in baseball and the worst minor league system,'' he said. ''We had a plan and we've stuck with the plan. I'd like to tell you we're smarter than everybody else, but we haven't won anything yet.''
A young staff led by Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is one reason for the optimism, but the sudden stardom of Correa, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, has pushed Houston's expectations over the top.
''We saw what he did last year in (99) games, but this year he's going to start from Day One. It's going be pretty interesting,'' Altuve said. ''He's going to be the best player in the game soon, and I'm really excited and I feel very proud to play next to him.''
Outfielder Colby Rasmus, who re-signed with the Astros after a big postseason, expressed the team's new mindset.
''There's a lot of smiles and everybody's walking around with their chest puffed out right now feeling pretty good about themselves, which is what we need,'' Rasmus said. ''We don't need to have our tails between our legs because we lost those games against the Royals. We played `em good, and they know we're there .... Being an Astro is good right now, it's a good place to be.''
Notes: Luhnow said the Astros are ''as healthy as we've ever been'' going into spring. The only setbacks are the strained oblique of reliever Luke Gregerson, who is throwing lightly, and the sports hernia surgery which might cause DH Evan Gattis to miss the start of the regular season.