It's that time of year, folks. Opening Day of the 2014 MLB season is less than five days away.
"Grapefruit" and "Cactus" are being replaced by "American" and "National." Split-squads and college teams are making way for an actual starting nine. And best of all, games aren't being played in Australia, where someone in the U.S. has to pull an all-nighter to see the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks go at it.
Will the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates be able to replicate their breakout 2013 campaign? How will players like Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler fare with their new teams? But most importantly, will the Red Sox bring back the beards?
Without any further ado, let's kick off the 2014 season with the five best matchups coming up on Monday.
5. Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics
Two of last year's surprising pitchers throw for two of last year's surprising teams.
But this time around, the success of Justin Masterson and Sonny Gray will come as no surprise to baseball fans.
Masterson finished with 14 wins and a 3.45 ERA, while Gray made his major league debut on July 10 and compiled a 2.67 ERA in 10 starts for the rest of the regular season.
Oakland doesn't boast one superstar, but rather a handful of role players. Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes, among others, make the A's a favorite to repeat as AL West champs.
The Indians were perhaps the biggest surprise in the AL to make the playoffs, and they return eight players who had double-digit home run totals last year. This game starts off at 10:05 p.m. ET.
4. Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
This pitching matchup features both Cy Young Award winners from 2012, as David Price and R.A. Dickey duel in this AL East matchup.
Both hurlers had somewhat of an off year to their standards last year, as Price went 10-8 and Dickey went 14-13.
Tampa Bay just snuck into the playoffs, while the Blue Jays severely underperformed and finished last in the AL East. The Rays are once again led by Evan Longoria, who is complemented by a strong core that includes the likes of James Loney and Wil Myers.
The Jays possess loads of power as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista headline five players who hit over 20 home runs last year.
This rivalry always provides sparks and is sure to do the same this year. Catch the first of many games between these two at 4:10 ET on Monday.
3. Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers
The Tigers undoubtedly have the best one-two pitching punch in the entire game.
You need proof? The defending Cy Young Award winner doesn't even get the Opening Day start.
Even so, Justin Verlander is no slouch, and along with the game's best hitter in Miguel Cabrera, Detroit is a dynamic team to watch this year. Coming off an appearance in the ALCS, the Tigers have a chance to get back there with the addition of one of the league's best second basemen in Ian Kinsler.
The Royals will throw James Shields, who had a very respectable 13-9 year as the Royals came closer than they have in recent memory to making the playoffs, finishing 10 games above .500.
The AL Central has the potential to put three teams into the playoffs, and this Opening Day matchup between two of those is a must-watch (begins at 1:08 p.m. ET).
2. St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds
Two playoff teams from last year's best division square off on Opening Day with two aces on the mound.
After missing a chunk of the season last year due to injury, the Reds' Johnny Cueto is back at full strength and ready to lead Cincinnati's rotation. His counterpart, Adam Wainwright, was a Cy Young runner-up and returns once again as one of the best pitchers in the league.
But it won't just be the arms being showcased in this 4 p.m. ET matchup. Each team boasts one of the best hitters in the NL, as the Reds' Jay Bruce and the Cardinals' Yadier Molina each finished in the top five of at least one major hitting category last year.
You're going to want to tune into ESPN on Monday, as mid-afternoon fireworks on both sides of the ball are guaranteed.
1. Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
One of the biggest surprises of last season was the success of the Orioles' Chris Tillman.
The All-Star right-hander went 16-7 with 179 strikeouts as Baltimore finished tied for third in the AL East with the Yankees at 85-77.
The Orioles' Opening Day opponent is, of course, the defending champions, who send Jon Lester to the mound. Lester is coming off an outstanding playoff performance, which included 15.1 innings of one-run ball in two World Series wins.
Although the Sox won't receive their rings because the game is in Baltimore, the pitching matchup is enough of a reason to tune in Monday at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
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