WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros are embracing the challenge of repeating and have a loaded and talented roster, which makes them the favorites to win the World Series again this fall.
Of course, a lot can happen during the course of the summer, but the Astros have enough depth and talent to make a serious run at becoming the first team since the late-1990s Yankees dynasty to win back-to-back championships.
In the offseason, up-and-coming third baseman Alex Bregman said the Astros are on a "back-to-back tour," and the players have been walking around the clubhouse this spring with T-shirts that read "back-to-back" in the style of the "Back to the Future" movie logo.
The Astros are having fun aiming for a repeat, and why not? After all, they're the only team that's in position to do it this year.
What's the goal?
See above. Having won the franchise's first World Series championship in the Astros' 56-year history in 2017 and bringing back a loaded club -- in addition to adding Gerrit Cole and a full season of Justin Verlander -- Houston has its eyes set on repeating.
It's clear the Astros are the best team in the AL West-- led by 2017 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner Jose Altuve -- and will be challenged by the Yankees and Indians in the AL, but it's repeat or bust for Houston in '18.
What's the plan?
The Astros didn't rest on their championship resume this winter, pulling off a deal to acquire Cole from the Pirates in January. He joins the deepest rotation in baseball with Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and playoff hero Charlie Morton, who's currently throwing 98 mph as a fifth starter.
The additions of reliever Joe Smith and Hector Rondon shore up a bullpen that sprung leaks in the postseason in 2017, addressing the team's only major weakness. The lineup, led by Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Bregman and Josh Reddick, is loaded from top to bottom, and Marwin Gonzalez is the best utility man in baseball -- if we can still call him a utility player.
Having won the World Series, the Astros are battle-tested and confident heading into this season. They're built to contend for years.
What could go wrong?
No team is perfectly constructed, but the Astros are as close as it gets. They have depth in their pitching rotation, lineup and now even the bullpen. They appear to be as hungry as they were last year.
So, what could go wrong? Well, injuries. Keuchel, McCullers and Morton all spent significant time on the shelf last year, though the Astros managed to get healthy just in time for the postseason. The bullpen wasn't up to par with the Yankees, Indians and Dodgers in the regular season last year, and manager AJ Hinch patched it together in the playoffs by using starters in key relief spots. The Astros' bullpen is the biggest unknown, though there is quality depth.
Perhaps the only thing that can stop the Astros are the Astros themselves. They can't allow the human nature of complacency to set in, and the way the team has carried itself this spring is an indicator it's not satisfied. Everything is lined up for the Astros to make another push into late October.
Let the back-to-back tour begin.