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Astros hungry, set to line up for Opening Day

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- An offseason full of celebrations and awards gave way to a businesslike spring camp, and now the Astros are ready to defend their World Series championship.

The Astros, returning nearly all of their core players from their 2017 title team, are poised to repeat with arguably the deepest starting pitching rotation and the deepest offense in the Major Leagues. The Astros begin the defense of their crown on Thursday against the Rangers in Arlington, sending Justin Verlander to the mound.

HOUSTON -- An offseason full of celebrations and awards gave way to a businesslike spring camp, and now the Astros are ready to defend their World Series championship.

The Astros, returning nearly all of their core players from their 2017 title team, are poised to repeat with arguably the deepest starting pitching rotation and the deepest offense in the Major Leagues. The Astros begin the defense of their crown on Thursday against the Rangers in Arlington, sending Justin Verlander to the mound.

Reigning American League MVP Award winner Jose Altuve, World Series MVP George Springer, superstar shortstop Carlos Correa and the rest of the boys will have to fight off the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians in the AL, but the Astros have made it clear: The championship goes through H-town.

Projected Opening Day lineup
1. George Springer, RF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, LF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Evan Gattis, DH
8. Brian McCann, C
9. Jake Marisnick, CF
RHP Justin Verlander

Key roles
• Facing lefty Cole Hamels to start the season, expect Marisnick -- who was hurt during the run to the World Series -- to start Thursday's opener.

• With first baseman Yuli Gurriel out to start the season with a left-hand injury before he will have to serve a five-game suspension handed down for making an insensitive gesture in the World Series last year, J.D. Davis will get time at first, though the veteran Gonzalez will play plenty of first.

• Right-hander Ken Giles remains the Astros' closer despite his rough World Series, but Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski and Will Harris can all save games.

Injury updates
• Gurriel underwent surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand on Feb. 28 and could be on the disabled list to start the season. Regardless, he will have to serve a five-game suspension. He's staying in Florida to rehab while the Astros open the season.

• Right-hander James Hoyt (left oblique strain) is also in Florida rehabbing to start the season.

Brian McTaggart. has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros