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The Astros

Associated Press

 

The Astros entered last season looking to defend the title after winning their first World Series in 2017.

 

Being eliminated in the ALCS by the Red Sox has done nothing to shake their confidence as the 2019 season arrives.

 

“I don’t think the feeling’s any different,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I think the way people talk about things is a little different. There’s an expectation of winning here, and there should be. We have a good team.”

 

The Astros won their second AL West crown last year after setting a franchise record with 103wins.Theyswept the Indians in the AL Division Series before injuries to stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa contributed to a 4-1 series loss to the Red Sox in the next round.

 

Though expectations remain high for a team that returns most of its roster from last season, Hinch will be careful to make sure these Astros don’t look too far ahead.

 

“I’m going to be the guy behind the scenes who is keeping our feet on the ground and making sure that we win series, we win homestands, we win months,” Hinch said. “It’s a boring, methodical way of describing it, but that’s what’s needed for 162 (games) and that’s why we’ve had four winning seasons.”

 

Altuve and Correa are healthy now, and up-and-coming star third baseman Alex Bregman is poised to take another step after a breakout 2018 season.

 

The rotation is in good shape, too, with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole back to lead the pitching staff.

 

“I have as much confidence as I ever have in this team,” Hinch said. “I love this team. I love the makeup.

 

“I love the edge that we have, the versatility that we have, the depth that our minor-league system has. There’s a lot of good going on here.”

 

Who’s the DH? The Astros didn’t re-sign Evan Gattis, who served as the team’s designated hitter last season, leaving that spot open.

 

But don’t expect the team to fill the role with just one player. Tyler White will get some at-bats, but the team plans to use the DH spot to give their stars a break from playing in the field.

 

Hinch noted that Altuve, Correa, Bregman, first baseman Yuli Gurriel and center fielder George Springer could all see time at designated hitter.

 

“It’s nice to have that flexibility and not be locked into having one guy that you have to play every day because he’s the DH,” general manager Jeff Luhnowsaid.

 

New faces: While much of the team is unchanged from a year ago, the Astros did add a few new players. Their top acquisition came with the signing of Michael Brantley to a two-year, $32 million deal. The 31-year-old gives the Astros an upgrade in left field and adds a left-handed bat to a predominantly right-handed lineup. The career .295 hitter had spent his entire 10-year career with the Indians.

 

After letting left-hander Dallas Keuchel go in free agency, the Astros filled his role in the rotation by adding fellow lefty Wade Miley on a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Miley was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts and 802⁄3 innings for the Brewers last year.

 

The Astros also signed a new catcher in Robinson Chirinos after Brian McCann signed with the Braves and traded for utility player Aledmys Diaz after longtime super utility man Marwin Gonzalez signed with the Twins.

 

Photo: Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have recovered from injuries and are ready to rock.

ELSA/GETTY