LEADING OFF: Astros open defense, Giancarlo leads new faces

Justin Verlander
The Associated Press

A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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FIRST DEFENSE

The Houston Astros begin the season as reigning World Series champions for the first time following their victory over the Dodgers last fall. AL Championship Series MVP Justin Verlander will make his first opening-day start with Houston after nine with Detroit. Verlander will face Texas ace Cole Hamels, who is making his fourth season-opening start, including his second with the Rangers.

NEW FACES

Giancarlo Stanton joins Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the Yankees’ imposing lineup, while J.D. Martinez suits up for Boston and Eric Hosmer for San Diego after signing nine-figure deals in free agency. Five skippers — Washington’s Dave Martinez, Boston’s Alex Cora, the Yankees’ Aaron Boone, the Mets’ Mickey Callaway and Philadelphia’s Gabe Kapler — will make their managerial debuts, while Detroit’s Ron Gardenhire will manage his first opening day since 2014 with Minnesota.

ACES UP

Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard are among the No. 1 starters set to go on opening day. Kershaw was supposed to face Madison Bumgarner until the left-hander broke his left pinkie last week — San Francisco is throwing Ty Blach instead. Kluber, last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland, draws another former Cy winner in Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, St. Louis’ Carlos Martinez, the Yankees’ Luis Severino and the Cubs’ Jon Lester also are set to pitch.

SHO TIME?

Two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani is expected to be a designated hitter in at least one of the Angels’ first three games and make his first major league start on the mound Sunday. No player has hit 10 home runs and won 10 games since Babe Ruth in 1918. Los Angeles is opening at Oakland, with Garrett Richards taking on Kendall Graveman.

WILD REMATCH

The Rockies begin this season just like they ended 2017 — trying to beat the Diamondbacks. Arizona topped Colorado in last year’s NL wild-card game behind a two-run triple from reliever Archie Bradley. Rockies ace Jon Gray allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings in that 11-8 loss. He’ll try to do better in his second straight opening-day start. Patrick Corbin gets the ball for the Diamondbacks.

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