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Hamels, Rangers set to take on WS champs

MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

The defending World Series champions. A marquee pitching matchup. A sellout crowd. An intense divisional rivalry between two Texas teams.

Opening Day at Globe Life Park has a chance to be extra special this year when left-hander Cole Hamels and the Rangers take on righty Justin Verlander and the Astros today.

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The defending World Series champions. A marquee pitching matchup. A sellout crowd. An intense divisional rivalry between two Texas teams.

Opening Day at Globe Life Park has a chance to be extra special this year when left-hander Cole Hamels and the Rangers take on righty Justin Verlander and the Astros today.

View Full Game Coverage

Verlander will be making his 10th Opening Day start in the last 11 years and his first for the Astros. He was acquired from the Tigers on Aug. 31, won all five of his starts in September and was 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings on the way to a World Series title.

"We won the World Series last year and we got better this year," Verlander said. "That's a pretty good recipe for success. I'm excited to be here for a whole season."

After winning their first World Series in franchise history, the Astros aim to be the first club to win consecutive titles since the Yankees won three straight (1998-2000).

"Yeah, I think there's only one goal, and that's to win another World Series," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "It's the same goal every year. We're still chasing the same thing every time we step on this ball field, and that's to win another World Series for Houston."

Hamels will be making his fourth career Opening Day start and his second in three years for the Rangers. He will be pitching for a club that finished 78-84 last season after winning two straight American League West titles in 2015-16.

"I think we have a really good rivalry going," Hamels said. "I know we played them really hard the last couple years since I've been here, but last year not so much. So what we have at stake is some really fun, competitive baseball, and I think that's something to look forward to for the whole season."

The Astros went 12-7 against the Rangers last season to win the Silver Boot Trophy for only the third time in the last 14 years. Both teams have higher goals than the annual trophy given to the team that wins the season series.

"Ultimately, for us, is to set the tone," Hamels said. "They're going to do the same, because they're trying to defend their crown, so it's going to be a tough battle, and I think that's where the excitement kind of builds up, is just understanding what's at stake for both teams."

Three things to know about this game
• Hamels and Verlander have combined for 747 starts in the Major Leagues, but this is the first time they have pitched against each other.

• Astros second baseman Jose Altuve hit .381 on the road last year, the sixth highest average and second highest by a right-handed hitter in the last 50 years. He hit .323 last year against the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

• Astros catcher Brian McCann is 17-for-66 with three home runs in his career against Hamels. He has more at-bats against Hamels than any other left-handed hitter. The only other pitcher that McCann has faced more in his career is right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Cole Hamels, Brian McCann, Justin Verlander