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NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Phillies over Rockies
Phillies over Rays
The Phillies are the fastest-growing brand in baseball. Since the start of the 2006 season their attendance has increased by 35% (to 3.6 million last season, second only to the Dodgers' and Yankees'), their payroll is up 63% (to roughly $144 million, third highest) and their wins have climbed from 85 to 89 to 92 to 93. And with four homegrown stars reminiscent of the core of the Yankees' late-'90s dynasty—Jimmy Rollins, 31; Chase Utley, 31; Ryan Howard, 30; and Cole Hamels, 26—the bull market in Philadelphia rolls on. Though they are National League champs two years running and have been the league's best or second-best run-scoring team for five straight seasons, the Phillies only now have the one element they've been missing for a quarter of a century: a big-time winner at the front of the rotation. That would be righthander Roy Halladay, obtained from Toronto in December, whose first trip to the playoffs should end with Philadelphia clinching its second World Series championship in three years.
The Yankees could muscle their way back to an October rematch with the Phils, but it would require the same off-the-charts good health and production from their older players that they received last year. That means the door is open in the American League for Tampa Bay, which has the deepest collection of young, versatile talent in the game.
Of course the beauty of a baseball season is that the one thing you can count on is a breakthrough you never saw coming. Last season, for instance, the Rockies jumped from 74 wins to 92 and into the playoffs. The '09 Rockies were the '08 Rays, who were the '07 Indians, who were the '06 Tigers, who...you get the idea. So remind yourself there are no sure things, especially because nine straight World Series champions have failed to repeat. The closest thing to a sure bet, however, is a loaded Philadelphia team with the best pitcher in baseball.
MODEST PROPOSAL BOXES WRITTEN BY JOE SHEEHAN
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Tom Verducci lists the 10 things he's looking forward to in 2010, and SI's experts break down the races at SI.com/baseball