Acid redux: The lesson Cubs provide for Astros, other dynasty seekers
So now it’s the Astros’ turn to be baseball’s next dynasty.
Where have we heard that before?
A year ago it was the Cubs with their young championship core coming off the World Series title with the expectations of doing it again, and then again.
The year before, to a lesser degree in the smaller market, it was the Royals after back-to-back trips to the Series and a title.
If anything, the Cubs’ World Series hangover, first-half stumble and second-round flush from the playoffs after a torrid and draining surge to get there may have provided a lesson to the Astros and any other would-be dynasties in the making.
“It’s hard to be a dynasty, period, and that’s coming from an organization that had one,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, whose 1998-2000 teams were the last to win back-to-back titles.
“It’s pretty impossible to continue to follow up, to have the great performance matching good health simultaneously for that amount of games on a year in, year out basis for a period of time,” he added.
“So when you do wind up with something like that, you’re riding a Secretariat that can’t be beat; that’s just rare.”
That’s whether you’re outspending everyone like the Yankees did, or winning it all with the youngest World Series lineup in history, like the Cubs did.
“Every year presents its own set of challenge. Every year is sort of its own story, its own book,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “And the year after you win the World Series you’re thrown challenges and thrown distractions that are unlike any other year. As we showed last [season], no matter the talent level no matter the dedication of your players, those things are still a reality.”
Whether you call it a “hangover,” “fatigue” or the “trying” nature of it, the 2017 Cubs were Exhibit A in World Series acid redux – even after surviving an epic Game 5 to win a playoff series and return to the NLCS.
“Everybody’s looking to beat you when you come off a year like we did,” said Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who said his team is ready for it. “We’re going to have our guard up. But we know we’re going to have to work just as hard, if not harder, for any success coming next year.”
The expectation of multiple championships – the insinuation of dynasties – is more acute for teams such as the Cubs and Astros that sold fans on lengthy rebuilds, replete with 100-loss seasons, for its competitive payoff.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn, who’s overseeing what many think might be the next tanking process to result in Cubs- and Astros-like results, is getting the benefit of those teams’ success now.
“There’s certainly more and more examples in the game the last several years that help sort of show fans a path and justification for what we’re doing,” Hahn said.
But reaching the light at the end of that tunnel, even winning the final game in November, isn’t nearly as difficult as answering the question of how to do it again, if recent history means anything.
“We remade ourselves every year,” said Cashman, who said he learned after the post-1996-title struggles that substantial chemistry and talent changes around the core was a crucial cure to the hangover effect.
His answer to the 1998 juggernaut that won 125 games by the time it steamrolled through an 11-2 October? Cashman traded David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush to Toronto for Roger Clemens.
“I felt, `How are you going to keep this team motivated?’ They won 125 games, lost only 50 and now David Wells is spending the entire winter on a private jet all over the country partying with [Tom] Arnold, and he was getting bigger and bigger,” Cashman said.
“So we decided to bring in the Jack LaLanne of baseball. Roger Clemens, the guy who works harder and who had everything except a world championship.”
Whether the Astros already did that with their trading deadline deal for Justin Verlander, Luhnow doesn’t expect a Cub-like slow start in ’18.
“I don’t see any hangover for us,” he said. “Knowing the group of players as well as I do, these guys are going to come in [at spring training] and be ready to go and champing at the bit … I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for us.”
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