Rangers open defense of title vs. Cubs

By Thomson Reuters Mar 27, 2024 | 6:40 AM

The Texas Rangers will take the first step on what they hope is the long journey toward defending their World Series title on Thursday night when they open the season against the Chicago Cubs in Arlington, Texas.

Last season’s path to glory saw the Rangers post a 90-72 record and a second-place finish in the American League West. They swept the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles in the first two rounds of the playoffs before outlasting the Houston Astros in seven games during the AL Championship Series. Texas capped it off by dispatching the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games to win its first World Series title in franchise history.

And while the Rangers would like to become the first team to win consecutive World Series titles since the New York Yankees from 1998-2000, they know that Game 1 of the regular season holds just as much value as the 161 contests that follow.

“Every game matters, so I’m making sure that we go out there and we set the tone and we do the little things that we’ve been working on during spring training,” Rangers right-hander and Texas native Nathan Eovaldi said. “I think it’s special because we won the World Series last year and there’s gonna be a lot of excitement, a lot of adrenaline.”

Eovaldi, 34, hopes to pick up where he left off in 2023 when he makes his fourth career start on Opening Day. The two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion followed a 12-5 record with a 3.63 ERA in 25 starts during the regular season by going 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA in his six outings in the playoffs.

Texas’ bread and butter is its high-octane offense, and manager Bruce Bochy expects to have two key cogs in the lineup on Thursday.

World Series MVP Corey Seager has returned to action following surgery to repair a sports hernia, while All-Star third baseman Josh Jung is good to go following a calf issue.

Seager, Jung, Marcus Semien and Adolis Garcia ignited a Rangers offense that led the AL with 881 runs and tied for the league lead with 233 homers last season.

The Cubs, who missed the playoffs after finishing with an 83-79 record in 2023, will turn to left-hander Justin Steele on Thursday to make his first career start on Opening Day.

Steele, 28, posted a 16-5 record with a 3.06 ERA last season to finish fifth in the balloting for the National League’s Cy Young Award. He won his lone career encounter vs. Texas on April 8, allowing one run on four hits in six innings of a 10-3 victory.

There’s even more reason for optimism in the Windy City outside of Steele. The Cubs signed Cody Bellinger to a three-year, $80 million contract on the heels of his 26-homer, 97-RBI performance in 2023. They also hired former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell to serve in the same role for them this season.

But for now, it’s Day One. And the Cubs won’t have far to look for inspiration.

“It’s gonna be really cool,” Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “Feeling that emotion and that energy, seeing it on the other side, that’s where we want to get to. So just having that example right in front of you, that extra motivation, to be able to start there and get the ceremony, the whole thing, and then play against them, just that whole bit, it’s going to be great for our experience and really kick-start the season for us.”

Chicago will try its luck against Eovaldi, who is 0-2 with a 3.72 ERA in three career meetings vs. the Cubs.

–Field Level Media