Astros begin title defense against Rangers on Opening Day

Almost five months later after winning the World Series, the Houston Astros will begin their title defense Thursday in Arlington against the Texas Rangers on Opening Day.

“I think it kind of makes the opening a little better, a little spice,” Rangers Pitcher Elvis Andrus said.

If there already wasn't enough motivation hoping to win in front of an Opening Day crowd, Thursday is a chance to see how well the Texas Rangers measure up.

“They have a very good team,” admitted Rangers Outfielder Delino DeShields. “Not taking that away from them, but we have a good team too.”

“Even though they are the champ and they are in our division, they're a really good team,” said Rangers Third Baseman Adrian Beltre. “Supposed to be the team to beat for us, so it's good to get it out of the way.”

The Astros have added more animosity to the in-state rivalry, reminding fans of the scheduling conflict after Hurricane Harvey.

“We had a few problems with Texas last year not wanting to switch games with us,” said Astros Owner Jim Crane. “So there's plenty incentive to want to try to beat up on Texas.”

Seven of the Rangers' first 17 games are against the Astros. With some projections having Houston finishing with more wins than anyone else in baseball, a strong start may be crucial to any success in 2018.

“We knew they were really good last year. I said if I could pick a team to win, it would be them. They were that good,” said Rangers Infielder Joey Gallo. “But it would be a good opportunity for us to start well against the best team in baseball.”

The last time the Rangers opened with a defending world champion was in 1978 against the New York Yankees. The Rangers won the pitcher's duel 2-1.

Thursday’s pitching matchup features Cole Hamels against Justin Verlander.