KAZ’S KORNER

When the Houston Astros open the 2018 major league baseball season tomorrow at Arlington, TX. against the Texas Rangers it will feature two teams that finished spring training on the opposite end of the spectrum.

After Sunday’s action, the Astros were the second-best team in Florida’s Grapefruit League with a .679 (19-9) winning percentage trailing only the Boston Red Sox’ .690 (20-9). The Baltimore Orioles were a distant third at .586 (17-12).

In Arizona’s Cactus League, the Milwaukee Brewers led the spring training exhibition season with a comparable .655 (19-10). The worst team during the entire spring was the Texas Rangers, who only managed seven wins while losing 22 games for a pitiful .241 winning percentage.

However, winning the World Series and then coming back in the top echelon the following year of the spring training exhibition season does not reveal a dynasty in the making.

In fact, the Astros’ front office plus Manager A.J Hinch, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and even team owner Jim Crane avoid that word “dynasty” like the plague. Most of the 25-man roster also stay away from that word. Only Carlos Correa, George Springer and Justin Verlander tossed out the word “dynasty” this spring.

The New York Yankees can legitimately be considered a dynasty over the years by winning four straight World Series in 1936-39, five straight from 1949-53, two more in 1961-62 and again 1977-78 and three straight from 1998-2000.

The odds appear almost stacked against the Astros repeating this season if recent past history has anything to do with it.

The last five defending world champions entered the subsequent All-Star break with records just above .500 or worse, according to Texas Sports Nation which was inserted in Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle: 2017 Cubs—43-45; 2016 KC Royals—45-43; 2015 Giants –46-43; 2014 Red Sox—43-52; 2013 Giants 43-52.

Of that group, only the Chicago Cubs made the post-season. Of the 22 defending world champions since the start of the 1996 season, 10 did not make the playoffs.

Luhnow and Hinch believe that if the Astros were to win again in 2018—and become the first repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees—the organization had to avoid the pitfalls of basking in victory, according to the magazine.

“You’re still vulnerable when you show up the next spring and you haven’t taken a step forward,” Hinch told the magazine. “That’s the part with our club mentality that I’ll demand out of them.”

The players got the message. Upon their arrival at West Palm Beach, Fla., they consistently said they stopped savoring the momentous post-Hurricane Harvey championship run, according to the magazine.

It’s hard to win one, let alone two,” commented center fielder George Springer, the World Series MVP. “We know what it takes to do it. We’ve got the experience of having done it.”

Shortstop Carlos Correa added, “The mentality here and the confidence that we have in each other, coming back from a strong year, is better.”

Fears of coming up short this season encouraged Luhnow to bolster the pitching staff. He signed veteran left-handed relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon, and more impactfully, traded four players to the Pittsburgh Pirates for ace starter Gerrit Cole.

Luhnow and Hinch will still be very happy is the Astros can avoid the disappointing first half the previous defending World Series champions experienced.

KWICKIES…In a move that left the NFL hierarchy scratching the heads, the New York Jets on Sunday rescinded their offer to free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Jets, who need to bolster almost every position to be competitive this fall, reportedly made the largest offer to Suh, and then changed their thinking on the proposal.

The PGA Tour’s Houston Open begins tomorrow at the Golf Club of Houston without its long-time sponsor Shell Oil being part of the tourney’s name for the first time since 1991.

Jose Altuve, the reigning American League MVP, who was destined to be a free agent after 2019 if no extension or new contract was reached with the Houston Astros, hit the jackpot last week when he agreed to a six-year, $151 million contract extension. The 5-6, three-time AL batting champion credits new teammate Justin Verlander for helping him land the huge contract. “He’s a veteran in the game and knows everything,” Altuve said. “He knows pitching, he knows inside the game, outside the game, so we talked. It was very helpful for me what he did.”

The Houston Rockets, who have won nine straight games going into last night’s game against the Chicago Bulls, became the 18th team in NBA history to reach 60 wins in the 74th game of the season when they crushed the Atlanta Hawks 118-99 Sunday night.

Officials at Lamar University in Beaumont hope to make the university a more competitive Southland Conference recruiter by upgrading various athletic facilities, starting with the men’s and women’s locker rooms. There are many high school locker rooms nicer than Lamar’s. Renovations will begin next week on the locker rooms, thanks to a $500,000 donation by Susan Conn Curry.

The Final Four is set for this weekend when a pair of No. 1 seeds—Villanova and Kansas—meet in the semifinals Saturday along with the tournament’s Cinderella team No. 11 Loyola of Chicago vs. No. 3 Michigan. Villanova rolled past Texas Tech 71-59 while Kansas needed overtime to nip Duke 85-81. Loyola, the hottest team in the Final Four which hasn’t been there since 1963, credits its good-luck charm 98-year-old Sister Jean, who also was cheering the Ramblers on in the 1963 Final Four. Loyola dominated Kansas State 78-62 while Michigan edged past Florida State 58-54. I’d love to see Loyola win it all Monday, but believe I’d put my money on Villanova if I were a betting man.

JUST BETWEEN US…The answer to why the Seattle Seahawks were so anxious to get rid of three-time Pro Bowl honoree Michael Bennett was evident when it was announced last week that he had been indicted on a felony assault charge. Bennett allegedly mowed down a 66-year-old paraplegic security guard after Super Bowl LI when he was told he could not go out of the field at NRG Stadium in Houston to visit his brother Martellus after the New England Patriots came back late in the game to defeat Atlanta on Feb. 5, 2017. The 32-year-old Bennett, who played his high school football at Alief Taylor and Texas A&M, was indicted on a third-degree Felony, punishable by two-10 years in prison, $10,000 fine or both.