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Fans, pundits give edge to Rays

Fans, pundits give edge to Rays

Let the geographical bickering begin.

It seems where you live, not surprisingly, quite directly influences whom you think might win the World Series. Those in Pennsylvania favor the Phillies. Those in Florida have taken a liking to the Rays. And those throughout the rest of the nation are leaning a bit southward, picking the Rays as slight popular favorites over the Phillies.

Of the 27 Philadelphia Daily News staff members polled on their Web site about their World Series predictions, 18 of them chose the Phillies. And of the eight St. Petersburg Times writers asked the same question, seven of them selected the Rays.

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But that's all to be expected with the World Series set to begin on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field. Loyalties will be loyalties, and even unbiased media members can't help but be impressed by teams that they see on a daily basis.

Perhaps a more national perspective is what's needed. ESPN achieved that through its SportsNation feature, which polled thousands of fans across the country, grouping them by state. As of noon Wednesday, 60 percent of more than 175,000 respondents favored the Rays to beat the Phillies, including 84 percent of those in Florida.

But of the more than 17,000 voters from Pennsylvania, 80 percent of them picked the Phillies.

What's clear is that no one saw this matchup coming, and so precious few seem qualified to spout their opinions now that it's here. Of the 19 ESPN experts who published their predictions before this season began, none of them picked the Phillies to make the World Series, or the Rays to even qualify for the playoffs. Only two writers even believed that the Phillies would win the NL East. And those were views echoed throughout the nation, from FOX Sports to Yahoo! to Sports Illustrated.

This was supposed to be the season of the Red Sox, of the Yankees or Mets or Cubs or even the Dodgers. This was supposed to be the year that the Indians took control of the AL Central, or that the Angels and Diamondbacks ran the table in the West. But instead it was the Phillies -- competitive but not dazzling last year -- and the Rays who impressed, confirming the notion that baseball has changed.

"We have more competitive balance than we've ever had," Commissioner Bud Selig said, on Tuesday, explaining how two teams that almost nobody saw coming could make the World Series.

Now, nearly seven months after the season began, surveys of popular baseball sites show that the Rays are improbably favored over the Phillies -- but the verdict is close. Of the 12 national writers that the St. Petersburg Times polled in the Tropicana Field press box, four of them predicted that the World Series would go to seven games. And another five of them figured six games should do it.

The Sporting News is split, with two staff members favoring the Phillies and another two favoring the Rays -- in seven games, of course.

And so, with the World Series only hours away, there is but one consensus in the baseball world: anyone can win, but no one is liable to win by much.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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