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updated: 3/10/2018 7:13 PM

Rozner: Will Astros suffer same hangover as Chicago Cubs?

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  • Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel works in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Miami Marlins Monday, March 5, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel works in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Miami Marlins Monday, March 5, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

 
 

Kris Bryant stood in the Cubs' clubhouse and patiently answered all comers.

He paused frequently, took deep breaths and never did flash that million-dollar smile.

The man was gassed after the Dodgers eliminated the Cubs in last fall's NLCS.

Bryant spoke of the year before, of it being Thanksgiving 2016 -- after weeks of World Series celebrations -- by the time he allowed his Las Vegas couch to secure his beaten body.

By then, most of baseball had rested a month, and been back training another month, in preparation for the 2017 season.

Bryant just wanted to sleep. And the turkey hadn't even been sliced.

That is your definition of the World Series hangover, something the Houston Astros are currently fighting, even if they don't know it yet.

"We're not the Cubs," Houston starter Dallas Keuchel told The Washington Post a few days ago. "I firmly believe we have better players."

Well, on paper it's hard to argue. They are the World Series champs and they have added Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for an entire season.

A year ago, on paper, it was very hard to argue against the Cubs as the most talented team, and no one from the top to the bottom of the Cubs' organization would admit to the hangover.

Until it was over. And then everyone did.

A pale and shivering Bryant looked like something from "The Walking Dead" after Game 5, while Addison Russell said, "There were times when we showed fatigue."

After a year of parties and a third consecutive NLCS, the Cubs were on fumes when 2017 concluded.

Good for Keuchel for believing what he does about his team. It should be no other way for the champs. But he knows not what he says, because he has not yet felt the lack of energy, hunger and focus, and he has not yet seen the team suffer from a lack of rest and health.

It will happen. It always does.

George Springer spent November on the road, appearing on just about every national TV show you can imagine, this after a championship parade, a Disney World procession, an NYSE bell ring, "Saturday Night Live" and all the rest.

"Thanksgiving," Springer told the Post, "snuck up on me real quick."

Like Bryant said, two months of a normal off-season were gone, no time to sleep in or catch his breath.

"I did everything you can think of; shows, appearances, interviews," Springer said. "My first weekend with nothing to do was Week 11 of college football."

If it sounds tiring, it is, even for young men in perfect physical condition. They are creatures of habit, and this is all so very different.

Thus, the stench of hangover and all that it brings invades long before they can smell it.

"That demand on your time is more of the 'hangover' than anything else," Astros hurler Lance McCullers told the Post. "It's just the time you didn't get to devote to preparing for the season.

"I did all the media stuff, all the requests -- sometimes two, three times a day. That's not an off-season. That's a media tour.

"That first month after the World Series, other guys are lifting, getting stronger, getting ready for the season, and you're running around doing interviews and other stuff, which is great because you won the World Series.

"But at the same time, it just contributes to the mental fatigue that you deal with during the season."

Of course it's worth it because of the ring you get on Opening Day, but the physical exhaustion doesn't hit everyone at the same time, and most do all they can to deny it.

The mental challenge doesn't reveal as quickly or as obviously, but human nature insists that you don't need to win as much as you did the year before, and the focus on details gets lost amid banner-raisings, rings and media requests.

At least some of the Astros are aware of it, but there is no answer for the short winter. The good news for Houston is they are deep and loaded.

So were the Cubs a year ago.

Now, the Cubs are angry, hungry, rested and -- oh, yeah -- still very, very good.

Maybe Dallas Keuchel will be right. The last two decades of baseball say he will be wrong.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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