03/27/2003 1:00AM

Baseball 2003 preview - for bettors


Most publications that preview a new baseball season focus on who will win the division titles and contend for the World Series.

That's fine for discussion over the hot stove during the winter, but now that games are starting, it's more important to look at how we can make money on a day-to-day basis. So, while I'll make some picks in each division, the focus here is more on which teams - and especially which pitchers - will be offering value this season.

Today we'll look at the American League, with the National League on tap for Sunday.

AL East

Yankees: After his team came up short last year, owner George Steinbrenner appears to have bought himself another championship, but it's hard to make money on a team when laying -200 or -300 every day because even the best teams lose a third of the time. In fact, the Yankees should be considered a go-against team in April. Closer Mariano Rivera is expected to miss the first month of the season and setup man Steve Karsay is also on the disabled list. The bullpen, usually a strength, could be a weakness and help underdog bettors cash some tickets versus the Yanks.

Red Sox: John Burkett, who started last season by winning his first seven decisions, could be a good pitcher to back early in the season, and will require bettors to lay less money than the other starters: Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox, who will be employing a closer-by-committee system, could also be vulnerable in late innings, so tread lightly if backing any starter you feel can't go the distance.

Blue Jays: For a middle-of-the-pack team, the Jays have enough offense to always be a live underdog. Roy Halladay will probably be a bet-able price only on the road. Other back-able pitchers are Cory Lidle (out of the shadow of the A's pitching staff), Tanyon Sturtze (4-18 with Tampa Bay last year but will get more run support in Toronto), and southpaw Mark Hendrickson (he went 3-0 last September).

Orioles: It'll be hard for me to bet any of the Orioles' games. They're not good enough to bet on, and the odds usually will be too steep to take their opponents. The Orioles' offense isn't good enough to bet the over, and their pitching isn't good enough to feel comfortable taking the under.

Devil Rays: Tampa's best move this offseason was signing Lou Piniella as manager, which alone should get them more wins - but the victories still will be few and far between. Southpaws Joe Kennedy and Jim Parque could be backed at a price when facing lineups filled with left-handed hitters.

Most likely division winner: Yankees (1-10).

Value play: Red Sox (7-2).

AL Central

White Sox: As a lifelong Cubs fan, it pains me to admit this but the White Sox are legitimate contenders. With a potent offense, a solid rotation (led by Mark Beuhrle and offseason acquisition Bartolo Colon), and a legit closer in Billy Koch, the ChiSox will be in every game. If Tom Gordon returns to form in a middle-relief role, they'll run away with the division.

Twins: I loved betting them early last year as everyone pretty much wrote them off after the team was nearly eliminated in the offseason. Then everyone got on the bandwagon and bettors lost a lot of line value. The Twins definitely should be considered a go-against team early this season, especially with Brad Radke, Joe Mays, Kenny Rogers, and Rick Reed expected to be overpriced.

Indians: This team, which recently flirted with the upper echelon of baseball, has been gutted, but the Indians still will offer betting value on occasion when C.C. Sabathia or Ricardo Rodriguez are on the mound.

Tigers: They could be a good team . . . if they were playing in Triple A. Mike Maroth will be a profitable pitcher on the road, and the under should also be considered when he takes the mound (especially since the offense won't give him much support).

Royals: Good luck if you're betting on this team. They'll occasionally score some runs, so the better bet might be the over when they are facing a mediocre pitcher.

Most likely division winner: White Sox (5-7).

Value play: None (it's a two-horse race).

AL West

Athletics: Oakland management has shown an inability and unwillingness to pay its top players what they're worth, so why would you put your money on them? They'll be too high-priced any time Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, or Mark Mulder are on the mound - and if you can get a nice price on a decent opposing pitcher, you should be able to cash some tickets along the way.

Angels: Last year, I didn't have the foresight to pick the Angels to win the World Series, but I did write: "This team might very well finish last in this division, but they might be the best moneymaker for bettors."

Indeed, the Angels were, winning often as nice-priced dogs. The Angels have virtually the same team back, and those overlays will be harder to find this year. They will probably be overlays only on the road as short-priced favorites or slight dogs. Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, Kevin Appier, and John Lackey are all worthy of a wager.

Mariners: The M's fell from grace last season after 116 wins two years ago. With the A's and Angels getting most of the attention, they could slip under the radar screen and surprise some people again. Freddy Garcia had a rough second half of last season, but look for him to rebound this year. Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro can also get the money.

Rangers: This is definitely a team to look at for betting the over. The offense, even with the loss of Ivan Rodriguez, will score plenty of runs, and the pitchers (Chan Ho Park is the ace?) will allow them in bunches. As great as Alex Rodriguez is, his salary could pay for an awfully good staff.

Most likely division winner: A's (5-9).

Value play: Mariners (5-2).

AL futures and over/under picks

With the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it's hard to see any real outsiders emerge. The Yankees are the safe investment if you're playing futures. They'll probably win it all, but the Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels are tempting at 12-1 to win the World Series (a bet on all three would basically give you an three-team coupling at 4-1). Any way you look at it, however, it's probably not worth tying up your money for seven months.

Over/under bets are also fun to follow all year long as you can check to see if your team is on pace to exceed or fall short of its total.

American League teams I expect to go "over" are the Red Sox (91.5 wins), Blue Jays (78.5), White Sox (87.5), and Rangers (79).

Teams I see going "under" their totals are the Twins (87.5) and Orioles (70.5)

Handicapping the American League


Yankees 1-102-198.5

Red Sox7-212-191.5

Blue Jays15-180-178.5

Orioles 25-1200-170.5

Devil Rays50-1300-165


White Sox2-312-187.5

Twins 5-718-187.5

Indians 25200-169.5

Tigers 25-1300-163.5

Royals 25-1300-164.5



Angels 11-512-190.5



DIV. -- odds to win the division; WS - odds to win the World Series; O/U - over/under total regular-season wins