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Now the real season starts

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Well, after 162 games, I mean 163, we are finally ready to get the MLB playoffs started.

The big theme of this year's postseason will undoubtedly be the Chicago Cubs' pursuit of their first World Series title since 1908. The Cubs, though, are not the only Windy City representatives, as Ozzie Guillen's White Sox punched their ticket on Tuesday, winning a one-game playoff over the Minnesota Twins to capture the AL Central title.

It is the first time since 1906 that both the Cubs and White Sox will be participating in the playoffs. If anyone has visions of another all-Chicago World Series, though, think again. In fact, I have them both going out in the first round.

Another storyline to follow will be the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in the playoffs for the first time in team history. Hopefully, Tropicana Field will sell out, but by the looks of things down the stretch, the Rays won't see a packed house until they get to U.S. Cellular Field to face the White Sox in Game Three.

The best of the first round series' will take place in Anaheim, where the defending world champion Boston Red Sox start defense of their second title in four years against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels were the only team to reach 100 wins this season, but have lost nine straight postseason games to the Red Sox, including a three-game sweep last season.

Each of Boston's last three World Series appearances have started with a series against the Angels.

Joe Torre's Los Angeles Dodgers will get the first crack at extending the Cubs' misery. The Dodgers, of course, have the amazing Manny Ramirez, who has been an absolute beast for LA since coming over from Boston at the trade deadline.

The other NLDS will pit Milwaukee against Philadelphia. Of the eight teams in the playoffs, only Milwaukee - which will be making its first postseason appearance since 1982 - has gone longer without a playoff win than the Phillies, who were swept by the Colorado Rockies in last year's NLDS. Philly hasn't won a playoff game since 1993.

Let's take a look at how I see the first round panning out:

BREWERS VS. PHILLIES:
Before the postseason started, I said I was going to pick the Phillies to come out of the National League. However, I think they are going to have their hands full with this Brewers team. I am not a big Cole Hamels guy. Actually, I think he is going to get outpitched badly in Game One by Yovani Gallardo. Unfortunately for the Brewers, their bullpen is only slightly better than the Mets', so a great effort by him could go for naught since Gallardo can probably only give you six innings. If the Brewers somehow steal Game One with CC Sabathia going in Game Two, Philly's bats are going to be real tight. Sabathia has had his struggles in the postseason and at some point, this short rest thing is going to catch up to him. My guess it happens early on in Game Two in the form of a Ryan Howard moon shot. Plus the Phils have Mr. 41-for-41, Brad Lidge, closing games for them while the Brewers will be running out either Eric Gagne or the human gas can Salomon Torres. Somehow, someway, the Phillies will get it done. Bottom line is they are better.
PHILLIES in FOUR

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DODGERS VS. CUBS:
Logic tells you that the Cubs should advance. Their lineup is stacked and are one of the few teams that can go three-deep in their rotation. Everything tells me to pick the Cubs here, but I am not so sure. I question whether or not Carlos Zambrano is healthy. Plus Rich Harden is always a pitch away from blowing up. And I do not trust Kerry Wood in a big spot. On the other hand, few pitchers finished the year the way Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley did. Add that in with the fact that Manny Ramirez is one of the few players in the league that can single-handedly carry a team on his back, especially in the playoffs. Sorry Cubs fans, your misery lingers. I am going with the upset.
DODGERS in FIVE

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RED SOX VS. ANGELS:
This series is simple to figure out. It is great starting pitching against a great lineup. The big question is, can Los Angeles' starters do enough to slow down the potent offense of the Red Sox? That has not been the case the last two times these teams have meet in the playoffs, and Boston has come out on the winning end both times. As good as its pitching is, Los Angeles is going to have to hit at some point in this series. Outside of the big two (Guerrero, Teixeira), though, I don't see the Angels being able to do enough at the plate. I am not sure how Beckett's injury is going to affect the Sox. It would be a huge blow if he is not able to go. As good as K- Rod was this season, I just have a feeling that Boston is going to get to him at some point this series. The Angels may be the best team from top-to-bottom in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they are running into a Red Sox team that just knows how to get it done in October.
RED SOX in FOUR

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WHITE SOX VS. RAYS:
If the Rays had drawn the Twins here I probably would have went with Minnesota. Chicago, though, is the perfect first round opponent for Joe Maddon's upstarts. First of all, the White Sox are gassed. Secondly, teams that rely that much on the home run rarely get the job done in the postseason. The young Rays may be overwhelmed by everything, but playoff-tested veterans like Troy Percival, Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske will keep the B.J. Uptons, Evan Longorias, and Scott Kazmirs in check. It will be interesting to see how Maddon uses phenom David Price, who some say could have a Francisco Rodriguez- in-2002 impact. Either way, despite probably not having any sort of a home field advantage, the Rays will not have a problem here. Hope they enjoy it, because they will get steamrolled in the ALCS.
RAYS IN THREE

LET'S HAND OUT SOME HARDWARE

AL MVP: DUSTIN PEDROIA
Has there ever been a more unlikely MVP? The only thing hurting Pedroia here is that teammate Kevin Youkilis could wind up taking some of his votes. Either way, Pedroia should become the third player to win a Rookie of the Year with an MVP Award the following season. If you watch the Red Sox on a daily basis, there was no doubt that Pedroia was the most important part of that team. Aside from being in almost every big rally, the scrappy second baseman was flawless in the field. He came up just short of winning a batting title, hitting .326 with 17 homers, 83 RBI and a league-high 118 runs scored.

AL CY YOUNG: CLIFF LEE
An absolute no-brainer. Lee picked up the first of what is expected to be many postseason awards on Tuesday with the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Lee, who had to earn a spot on the team in spring training, was an MLB-best 22-3 in 2008 and posted an AL-leading 2.54 ERA, second in the majors only to Johan Santana of the New York Mets (2.53 ERA). His 22 wins tied for the Major League lead with the Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb. The 30-year-old left-hander threw four complete games, including two shutouts, and struck out 170 batters in his 223 1/3 innings, allowing just 214 hits and 34 walks. His season included an 11-game winning streak, the longest in baseball since 2005, and he was tabbed as the AL's starting pitcher in the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

AL ROOKIE OF YEAR: EVAN LONGORIA
Another award that will likely be unanimous when it is announced on November 10. Longoria will probably get some MVP votes as well, but he missed a little over a month late in the season with a wrist injury. He hit .272 with 27 home runs and 85 RBI and at the age of 22, Longoria is already the best fielding third baseman in the league.

NL MVP: RYAN HOWARD
The NL MVP race down the stretch was as exciting as any of the playoff races. Albert Pujols is phenomenal. He is the best hitter of this generation. But his team didn't skip a beat when he went down with a calf injury in mid-June. Tell me where the Phillies would be without Howard. Sure, he hit .251, but when the chips were on the line in September, the Big Fella batted .352 (31-88) with seven doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 32 RBI and 26 runs scored. He is your MVP, and it is not even close.

NL CY YOUNG: TIM LINCECUM
I really wanted to go Johan Santana here, but Lincecum winning 18 games for that pathetic San Francisco Giants team gives him the nod. Not to mention he carried me to my first-ever fantasy baseball title. The Freak was amazing, striking out 265 in 227 innings, while pitching to a 2.62 ERA. Rumor has it that Sabathia wants to pitch for the Giants. Imagine having to face the two of them on back-to-back nights?

NL ROOKIE: GEOVANY SOTO
Another award that should be unanimous. Most of the postseason awards this season are no-doubters, and this is another one. At the age of 25, Soto was masterful with Chicago's pitching staff. He was also a force at the plate, hitting .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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