Heading home for the winter, the Houston Astros are already plotting a triumphant return in 2019.
Houston’s bid to become the first team to repeat as World Series champions since the 2000 New York Yankees was shredded in the American League Championship Series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Boston’s bats did consistent damage and the Red Sox ended the series in Game 5 on Thursday night in Houston.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but sometimes you have to give credit to the other guys and understand that they got the big hit in the big situation, made the big pitch, made a big play. That’s the game,” said Astros outfielder George Springer, whose postseason exploits in 2017 were a big reason the Astros were fitted for championship rings. “You put it behind you, let it soak in for a few days, and you’re on to next year already.”
Right-hander Justin Verlander, in the playoffs for the seventh time in 14 seasons and carrying a 4-1 record in elimination games, took the loss for the Astros in Game 5.
“We had a good season. Didn’t end up where we wanted,” said Verlander. “We lost to a great team. I said it last year: Playoffs, it’s flip a coin sometimes. It’s whoever’s playing the best baseball at the time. We were dealing with a ton of injuries, as you could tell, but the guys battled, and I feel like we gave them a good fight. It just wasn’t enough at the end.”
When the World Series begins Tuesday night at Fenway Park, third baseman Alex Bregman will be down the path to preparing for next season.
“This year’s team was better than last year’s team,” Bregman said. “The ball’s got to bounce your way in the postseason. It’s tough, and we’ll learn from it. Everyone in here will have a little bit of an edge to play with next year, a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, knowing that we believe we should have been back-to-back champions.”
There are likely changes afoot in the rotation. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel is a free agent, as is righty Charlie Morton. Keuchel, 31, could command more than $20 million per season on a four- or five-year deal.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Keuchel said. “I don’t know where I’m going to be next year, and I put my heart and soul into this team for seven years. I’d love to be here for the long haul, but I know the business side doesn’t always meet the human side, so we’ll see.”
First baseman Marwin Gonzalez, designated hitter Evan Gattis and catcher Martin Maldonado are also eligible for free agency.
“It sucks,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the feeling of finality in Houston after Thursday’s loss. “This is a press conference you never really prepare for. I don’t know the right words, the right tone, the right content. I mean, it’s an extremely disappointed clubhouse because we want to keep playing. We feel like we set the bar exactly where it should be around here, which — the World Series is the only thing that was going to make this team feel like we accomplished much.”
—Field Level Media