Opposite dugout: Young Astros stars shooting for repeat of dream season

AstrosLogo.jpgManager: AL. Hinch (4th season)

Record: 3-1

Who to watch (2017 stats): 2B Jose Altuve (.346, 32 steals), CF George Springer (34 homers), SS Carlos Correa (84 RBIs), 3B Alex Bregman (39 doubles), RHP Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA), RHP Ken Giles (34 saves, 2.30 ERA)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (5-1 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

April 2: RHP Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.84 ERA in 2017) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA in 2017), 7:10 p.m., MASN
April 3: RHP Mike Wright Jr. (0-0, 5.76 ERA in 2017) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA), 8:10 p.m., MASN
April 4: RHP Dylan Bundy (0-0, 0.oo ERA) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (0-1. 4.50 ERA), 2:10 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Astros:

As fortune and the schedule-makers would have it, the Orioles' first road trip of the 2018 season takes them to the home of the defending champs of Major League Baseball. And as difficult as it is to repeat, the Astros look as likely to do so as any team could. After suffering through some painfully lean years, this young club - all but three position players on the 40-man roster are still in their 20s - is built (or rebuilt) to last.

Shortstop Carlos Correa (315/.391/.550 in 2017), just 23, already has three big league seasons under his belt, including a 2015 campaign that earned him American League Rookie of the Year honors. Center fielder George Springer (.283/.367/.522 in 2017), who led the club in longballs last year, announced the champs' return with his very first swing of the 2018 season, homering off Cole Hamels to help the Astros spoil opening day for the host Rangers. Josh Reddick (.314/.363/.484 in 2017), the old man of the outfield at 31, finished just two RBIs shy of Correa's club-leading 86 in 2017. Utility infielder Marwin Gonzalez (.303/.377/.530 in 2017), who logged 134 games last season, is holding down the fort at first while Yuli Gurriel recovers from hand surgery and serves a five-game suspension left over from 2017. And, oh, yeah, there's the Astros second baseman, 2017 Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve, who is gunning for his seventh consecutive season with 30 steals or better and a third straight batting title. He's 9-for-16 so far in 2018.

The O's last year missed the sinkers and knuckle-curves of Charlie Morton, who starts the Astros' home opener Monday. In his two career starts against them, Orioles hitters have touched Morton up for a total of 11 runs (eight earned) on 15 hits. New Oriole Colby Rasmus has gone 7-for-14 with a home run lifetime against Morton. Justin Verlander makes his second 2018 start on Tuesday. The Astros' Aug. 31 trade for the six-time Tigers All-Star marked the completion of their transformation from doormat to favorite. After going 5-0 in September, Verlander notched two victories each in the division and league-championship series. In his first opening day start for the Astros, he struck out five Rangers over six scoreless innings to earn the win Thursday. Sinkerballing lefty Dallas Keuchel takes the mound in Wednesday's series finale. In Friday's start against the Rangers, he went six innings and allowed three earned runs on seven hits and took the loss.

Righty Brad Peacock has settled back into a setup role after making 21 starts last season, providing a bridge while Keuchel recovered from injury and David Paulino served a suspension. Chris Devenski (8-5, 2.68 ERA in 2017) and Will Harris (3-2 2.98 ERA in 2017) also are back for late-inning relief. Astros closer Ken Giles throws a 98 mph fastball, but on opening day gave up a run on two hits.

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