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Astros built to end historic back-to-back 'drought'

MLB.com @RichardJustice

HOUSTON -- Some of the Astros wear T-shirts that spell out the goal: "Back to back." Subtle? No. Neither is the quest.

"We know the last time a team did it -- it's the Yankees," manager AJ Hinch said.

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HOUSTON -- Some of the Astros wear T-shirts that spell out the goal: "Back to back." Subtle? No. Neither is the quest.

"We know the last time a team did it -- it's the Yankees," manager AJ Hinch said.

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Yes, that. Since the Yankees won the World Series three years in a row -- 1998, '99, 2000 -- Major League Baseball has not had a team win in back-to-back seasons, a historic drought.

Perhaps more impressive is that only one team has even come close. The Phillies got back to the World Series in 2009 after winning in '08, but lost to the Yankees.

No other World Series winner since 2002 has gotten even that far. In the past 17 seasons, 12 franchises have won at least once -- the longest drought in big league history. The next-longest such drought is 15 years, from 1978 (Yankees) to '93 (Blue Jays). While the Giants and Red Sox have won three championships apiece in that span, they never won two in a row.

Enter the Astros.

"We have the right attitude," 2017 American League MVP Award winner Jose Altuve said. "When you have the right attitude, anything is possible."

Video: HOU@TEX: Altuve racks up four hits, scores two runs

Indeed, that's the place the Astros start when this topic is brought up.

"I think the fact that we're the world champions doesn't really change the desire that our players have to go out and win the ballgame every night," general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

By almost any measuring stick, the 2018 Astros are better -- on paper -- than the '17 Astros. Barring injuries, they will have a full season of right-hander Justin Verlander, who was acquired Aug. 31, and have added another potential ace, Gerrit Cole, to the mix in a trade with the Pirates.

They join a rotation that has former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, World Series standout Charlie Morton and a 24-year-old right-hander, Lance McCullers Jr., who might have the best stuff of the group.

Offensively, the lineup is baseball's deepest, led by Altuve and World Series MVP George Springer. Two others -- 23-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa and 24-year-old third baseman Alex Bregman -- are already elite players.

To sum up, this is -- again, on paper -- baseball's best team, a team seemingly headed to the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

The Astros embrace this part of the deal. They also know how uncertain the path to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series was.

"When you see the twists and turns of a season, there were so many things, that if they go a different way, we're not talking about repeating, we're talking about chasing our first title," Hinch said.

He runs down the list. The Astros trailed Game 4 of an AL Division Series at Fenway Park and seemed to be headed to a deciding Game 5 until a Bregman homer changed everything.

Video: HOU@BOS Gm4: Bregman mashes game-tying homer to left

They had to win back-to-back AL Championship Series elimination games against the Yankees to get to a World Series that went the distance and included two of the craziest ever played (Games 2 and 5, both won by the Astros).

"When you put all that in perspective -- and our team has a healthy perspective -- you're not going to get too far ahead of yourself and start celebrating wins in September and October that we haven't really reached yet," Hinch said.

The Astros unveiled their World Series banner Monday night at Minute Maid Park and will hand out World Series rings on Tuesday. Hinch said those two ceremonies will close the book on 2017.

Before Monday's game, he said, "Between 5:50 and 6:20, we are going to celebrate the hell out of 2017. At 6:20, we are going to take the field and try to beat the Baltimore Orioles. That's the message to this team."

When Hinch is pressed about being positioned to win again, he said: "I just want to win tonight. People want the conclusion now so badly to the season. [If] you want to put us in the World Series today and the rest of the league agrees, I'm in.

"Do we have a good team? Yes. Are we proud of our team? Yes. Is our rotation elite? Yes. Do we have superstars throughout the team? Yes. What's that going to add up to? Check back with me in October."

Video: HOU@TEX: Verlander racks up five K's in six innings

Before Spring Training, Hinch said he knew he had to be the guy that forced his players to put 2017 in the books and look ahead. What he and Luhnow found was a team completely focused on the present, not the past.

"We wanted a sense of urgency in our clubhouse and on our team," Luhnow said. "We didn't have to do much to stimulate that. These guys really want to do it themselves.

"You've got veteran guys like Justin Verlander, Cole, Keuchel. They're still accomplishing a lot in their careers. You've got a lot of young players like Bregman that are just getting here."

When a reporter mentioned to Bregman that the Astros appeared to be better and that they were being widely picked to win another championship, he was blunt.

"Those people are smart," he said. "I think we have a lot of baseball left to be played, though. Before we talk about that, we have to talk about winning today. I think if we stick to the mindset of the next pitch, we'll be good."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

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