Through struggles, close calls and a couple of surprises, the 2010 regular season has completely altered the landscape of baseball. Teams that were considered an afterthought last year are contending for a title this year. In all likelihood, only three teams who made the postseason in 2009 will be back again this October. So as we turn the calendar from September to October, countless questions come to mind. Can the Yankees defend their title? Will the Phillies’ ‘Big Three’ blank the competition? After 15 years of October-less baseball, are the Reds capable of a playoff run? If this past season is any indication of what’s to come, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen.

In the American League, the title could go any which way. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, arguably the best two teams in baseball, have been duking it out all season long for the AL East. The Texas Rangers, with their intimidating lineup and fearsome ace, look equipped to make a run. And for reasons beyond rational explanation, the Minnesota Twins always seem to be around in October.

In the end, however, I believe the Yankees will prevail to the World Series. Right now, it’s impossible to tell who will win the AL East, but it’s a moot point. The Yanks and Rays both have what it takes to beat whomever they play, whether it be the Twins or the Rangers, in the first round.

The Twins are lacking the necessary star power to go far in the playoffs. With Justin Morneau on the 60-day DL as of early July and Joe Mauer just getting back from a knee injury, the two big guns on Minnesota’s offense won’t be able to carry them this time. And it’ll be a long time before I put any faith in Minnesota’s rotation, fronted by Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. Throw their bullpen woes into the mix and the Twins should quickly be disposed of in the American League Division Series.

Without even a sniff of October baseball for the past 11 years, Texas, unlike Minnesota, poses a real threat to whomever they play. Cliff Lee, the ace left-hander, is lethal in a five-game series. He went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts for Philadelphia last year. And with C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter behind him, both of whom have more than 13 wins and an ERA under 4.00 this season, the Rangers’ staff is legit. The Rangers’ lineup, highlighted by Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz, may very well be the best in baseball. I expect them to make it exciting, but I don’t believe the Rangers will make it past the first round simply because of the firepower they will be up against.

The winner of the American League Championship Series is all but a coin flip between New York and Tampa Bay. Made clear by the last month of play, the relationship between these two teams has been similar to that of Batman and the Joker: an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. This past August, the Yanks and Rays stood tied atop the AL East for a record-setting eight straight games. This series will most likely come down to experience. Considering this is Tampa Bay’s second playoff appearance in its history while this is New York’s 15th playoff appearance in the past 16 seasons, I’m obligated to give the Yanks the edge in this one.

Unlike the American League, in the National League one team reigns supreme. The Philadelphia Phillies, with their unparalleled lineup and staff, should make it to the World Series. The only question is how many games it will take them to get there.

Right now, the Atlanta Braves are slated to play the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. The Giants’ starting rotation, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, is right up there with the league’s best. However, when Juan Uribe is your biggest offensive threat, you know you’re not going very far. The Braves, on the other hand, have a very balanced lineup and rotation. The acquisition of first baseman Derrek Lee midseason provided a nice complement to Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. Second baseman Omar Infante and veteran pitcher Tim Hudson also surprised this year by having All-Star seasons. The Braves have been the second-best team in the NL all season long and should advance to the National League Championship Series.

The Cincinnati Reds finally have a chance to taste October baseball again. With a young core centered around potential-MVP Joey Votto, Reds fans have reason to be optimistic for the future. Unfortunately, running into the Phillies in the postseason is inevitable for the Reds, and they’ll be lucky if they salvage one game from them.

An Atlanta-Philadelphia NLCS would make for an exciting matchup. Even as a Mets fan who has despised the Braves so much over the years that he still yells ‘Larry!’ at the top of his lungs every time Chipper Jones comes to the plate, I find it hard not to pull for Bobby Cox, the longtime Braves manager, in this situation. This being his final year before retirement, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer deserves to go out in a blaze of glory to cap off his illustrious career.

Having said that, the Phillies should make quick work of the Braves. It’d be a nice story if Cox could make it into the World Series one last time, but Philadelphia’s ‘Big Three’ can’t be stopped. Roy Halladay is in contention for the NL Cy Young Award, Roy Oswalt has been the hottest pitcher in baseball since joining the Phillies and Cole Hamels is back to his All-Star-caliber self. This is the best starting three in recent history and their lineup only furthers the inevitable: the Phillies will be playing in the World Series.

A rematch between the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series is the theatrical ending any common baseball fan would appreciate. Last year, the Yankees dethroned the Phils to get back to their winning ways. I don’t see the Yanks winning this time around. Last year, Pedro Martinez pitched Game 2 for the Phillies. Pedro isn’t even in the majors anymore. This year, Roy Oswalt will pitch Game 2 for the Phillies. He’s gone 7-1 with a 1.65 ERA since joining the club. The point is, even the mighty bats of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira won’t be able to save the Yankees from the Phillies’ pitching dominance. And with the questions and concerns surrounding the Yankees rotation, Philadelphia, who is favored this postseason for a reason, should do to the Yankees what the Yankees did to them a year ago.

Phillies win in six.