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A few years ago, the big story with the Phillies was the fact that they were the first-ever professional franchise to lose 10,000 games. Now, they may become the first back-to-back World Series winners in the new century.

Last night's NLCS Game 5 provided still more evidence that Philadelphia may be the most balanced team in baseball. With a lineup that features contributions out of nearly every player (even though Ryan Howard went hitless, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Pedro Feliz all homered), some shutdown starting pitchers, and a suddenly resurgent bullpen, the Phillies are sitting pretty. Surprised, SportsNation? Going by your judgments back in early July, late July, and even just prior to the series, you probably should be. Now, the only thing left for the Phillies to do is wait for the winner of the Angels-Yankees series, which SportsNation thinks won't take too long -- much like seemingly every other series this postseason.

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You certainly can't say that this postseason has been devoid of excitement.

Not that we were accusing you of saying that; you seem pretty knowledgeable (heck, you did OK on our postseason quiz, and we had our top guys working on that). It's just nice to be reminded every once in a while of just how awesome October baseball can be.

That almost wasn't the case in Anaheim, however. For reasons unexplained, the Yankees' opponents this season seem intent on booting balls, running into outs and generally acting like they're unfamiliar with the basic rules of baseball. That ineptitude was once again on full display Monday night, with Bobby Abreu getting rung up after a failed attempt to get back to second base going along with the Angels' inability to score with a man on second and no outs. Thanks to some curious decisions by Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, however, the Angels managed to cut the Yankees' ALCS deficit to 2-1. SportsNation wasn't confident about the Angels' chances in this game, but how are they picking now?

In Philadelphia, the game nearly came down to a matchup of future slow-pitch softball MVP Matt Stairs and fireballing closer Jonathan Broxton. Flashbacks to 2008's Stairs moonshot were temporarily avoided when Broxton walked the pinch-hitting terror, but that only delayed the inevitable. Broxton gave up the game on a two-run double to Jimmy Rollins, whom he'd historically had some success against. Broxton is one in an increasingly-long line of big-time closers this season that have blown saves -- Papelbon, Nathan, Fuentes -- heck, even Mariano Rivera almost got in on the fun. It says something about the value of closers in the postseason -- we're just not sure what.

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Sid Bream, Aaron Boone and Dave Roberts will attest that it's not always the biggest names who make the plays that get teams to the World Series. But it doesn't hurt to have the big guns on your side. The bad news is SportsNation's picks for the NL MVP (Albert Pujols), AL MVP (Joe Mauer), NL Cy Young (Tim Lincecum) and AL CY Young (Zack Greinke) are all home watching on television. At least we've still got one of the Molina brothers.

Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle are looking for your rankings on the best remaining players for Thursday's "SportsNation" (ESPN2. 4 p.m. and midnight ET), but voters have already made it known who they would least want to face with the game on the line.

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We hate to ruin your Monday with talk of philosophy, SportsNation, but have you noticed that fans in Pennsylvania are ensnared by a kind of Yin/Yang duality when it comes to baseball?

On the one hand, you've got the Phillies. World Series winners in 2008, the Phillies are blessed with a wide array of talented players. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins form one of the best double-play combos in baseball, while Ryan Howard seems to be on pace for near-record numbers of home runs. Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino anchor the outfield, while Cole Hamels looks to have a long career leading Philadelphia's starting rotation. The team has won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 games. It's no surprise that they're atop the NL East as the second half kicks off. SportsNation has them winning the division easily.

On the other hand, behold the majesty of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They haven't won a World Series since 1979, which isn't a terribly long time to go without a championship, but their regular season record is most concerning. the team hasn't had a winning season since 1992, going through seven managers in that timeframe. They have seemingly finally realized the futility of their situation, and have begun selling off what few assets they have. Jason Bay was traded in 2008. Nate McLouth left earlier this season in a controversial deal. Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez (whom SportsNation touted as the Pirates' midseason MVP) rejected supposedly low-ball contract extensions, and may be traded shortly. Pirates fans have seen rebuilding plans fail before. Will this time be any different?

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Ryan Howard broke a power-hitting record that withstood the worst of an era of bloated power numbers. Jamie Moyer continued a run of longevity that would put Larry King to shame. And Phillies fans just wondered when Roy Halladay would show up.

All right, so we're sure more than a few of the Philadelphia faithful savored a pair of historically significant performances against the Marlins, but talk of Halladay does seem to dominate the moment. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Conlin waxes rhapsodic about Toronto's neighborhoods and Sam Donnellon wonders what impact adding Pedro Martinez will have on potential Halladay trade talks.

Then again, SportsNation doesn't think much of the Phillies' chances of winning the NL without Halladay. But add the ace to the mix, and it's a very different story.

As for Thursday night, Moyer became the oldest pitcher to go seven innings and allow one or fewer hits. That gives him 255 career wins, good enough for voters to put him in the discussion for Cooperstown (although the 4.22 career ERA isn't going to help). Howard hit career home run No. 200, passing Ralph Kiner, who he didn't know much about, as the fastest to the plateau.


As a Yankee fan I hate to do this, but I'm gonna agree with the Red Sox fans on this board: Youk's better than Howard. Youk's got 80 points on Howard in OBP and is even beating him out in slugging, despite Howard's significant advantage in homers (22 to 16). He also plays a stellar first base, whereas Howard would be better suited as a DH except that he plays in the NL.

-- puckettfan617

Ryan Howard is a great player and proof that not all athletes are knuckleheads we need more guys like him and Pujols in sports.

-- chubs314

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