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John Royal's World Series Pick: Rays in Six

So we’re down to the final two teams in baseball, with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies playing in the World Series. The action starts tonight with Houston’s Scott Kazmir on the mound for the Rays against Cole Hamels for the Phillies. The rest of the rotation for Tampa Bay is James Shields for game two, Matt Garza for game three, and Andy Sonnanstine for game four. The rest of the Phillies rotation is Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton.

This is the World Series of losers. The Phillies are the losingest franchise in professional sports history, and this is the first season that Tampa Bay has not only finished higher than fourth place, but has won more than 70 games. And while this is Tampa Bay’s first postseason and first ever World Series appearance, the Phillies are making only their sixth trip to the World Series in the over a hundred years their has been a World Series.

The Phillies have had a week off between games, while Tampa Bay had to go to seven games to defeat Boston. That game seven on Sunday night set the cable TV record for baseball with 13.4 million viewers.

The two closers for the team have Astros ties, as Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler closed games for the Astros last season. Lidge was a perfect 41 for 41 in saves during the season, and he has been perfect in the postseason. Wheeler has been closing games because Troy Percival, the Rays regular season closer, has been injured, and after some poor outings, Wheeler appears to have been replaced by rookie David Price, who came into lock down the game seven win over Boston.

Among the stats to note are that Cole Hamels, the game one starter, was the NLCS MVP and that he is 3-0 with a 1.23 playoff ERA in three starts, while the Phillies are led on the offensive end by slugger Ryan Howard. Howard led MLB in homers and RBI this season. The Rays are currently led by B.J. Upton who went off for four homers and 11 RBI in the series against the Red Sox. Tampa also set the ALCS record by hitting 16 home runs in the seven game series.

In many ways the two teams are evenly matched. But I’m picking the Rays to win this series is six games because I think Joe Maddon of the Rays is the superior manager, and I think that Tampa Bay has the overall better defense and pitching staff. Also, one of the chief scouts of the Phillies is Chuck LaMar, the guy who was the Rays general manager for all of those years when they were the worst team in baseball, while one of the chief execs with the Rays is Gerry Hunsicker, who was general manager when the Astros were one of the best teams in baseball.

So I would get out to Vegas and put my money on the Rays. -- John Royal

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