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American League Preview from The Sports Network
Monday, March 31st (All times Eastern)
Cleveland Indians (0-0) at Oakland Athletics (0-0), 10:05 p.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: Cleveland - Justin Masterson (0-0, 0.00) Oakland - Sonny Gray (0-0, 0.00)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Cleveland ace Justin Masterson can become a free agent at season's end.
The right-handed sinkerballer will get to prove his worth on Monday when he takes the hill for the Indians in their 2014 season opener against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum.
Masterson, who will be making his third straight Opening Day start, had been willing to sign a shorter deal to stay in Cleveland this offseason, but the Indians apparently balked and will take their chances on re-signing him after the season.
"If we go win a World Series," Masterson said, "I think things could work out pretty good."
Masterson was 14-10 with a 3.45 earned run average and three shutouts over 193 innings in 32 games (29 starts) for the Tribe in 2013.
Cleveland returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last year in manager Terry Francona's first-year with the club, as the team finished with a 92-70 mark. However, the Tribe fell to Tampa Bay in the one-game wild card playoff.
"That loss to Tampa was crushing," Francona said. "It really stung. It was hard for me to talk to them after the game. It hurt so much, because we were having so much fun together, and we didn't want it to be over. I think the guys that got a taste of it liked it, and want it again."
Oakland, meanwhile, enters this season on the heels of two-straight AL West championships.
The 2014 A's bring back largely the same core that finished second in the American League with 96 victories last season, which ended with a narrow loss to the bigger-spending Detroit Tigers in the Divisional round for a second straight year.
Of the few changes, reliable closer Grant Balfour has been replaced by two- time AL saves leader Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir takes departed staff ace Bartolo Colon's rotation spot after resurrecting a career on the brink of extinction in Cleveland, and general manager Billy Beane flipped designated hitter Seth Smith for one of the game's better set-up men in Luke Gregerson.
Oakland appears to have all the pieces in place to once again challenge for AL supremacy. The retooled bullpen should be terrific, and there's plenty of firepower from an offense that returns its nucleus of 2013 breakout star Josh Donaldson, sluggers Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick and sparkplug center fielder Coco Crisp, signed to a two-year extension in February. Unheralded manager Bob Melvin has been masterful at utilizing a deep bench to create favorable matchups and keep his players fresh, and the rotation sports a potential true top-tier option in talented youngster Sonny Gray.
Still, the spring has brought about more challenges to Beane, who's been able to maintain a consistent contender despite operating on a shoestring budget, and Melvin. Jarrod Parker, expected to step into Colon's former role as the No. 1 starter, tore a ligament in his elbow and is done for the season. A.J. Griffin, a 14-game winner last year, won't be available until at least late April after developing elbow soreness.
With Parker sidelined the A's will turn to 24-year-old right-hander Sonny Gray, who was 5-3 as a rookie last season with a 2.67 ERA. Monday's start will be his first against the A's.
Cleveland was 5-2 versus the A's last season.
03/31 10:24:17 ET
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