02/23/2012 3:53PM

Baseball over/under numbers a springtime event

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LAS VEGAS – I don’t know what the weather is like in your neck of the woods, but here in Vegas it feels like spring has sprung.

We hit 70 degrees this past week and, unlike my childhood in the Chicago suburbs when that first warm day was usually just a tease and would be followed by a snowstorm within a week, we can kiss winter good-bye (yes, we do have winter here; I even had to wrap our pipes and I swear I saw some frost on our 10x20-foot patch of lawn one day). The other sure sign that spring is almost here – besides Mojave Max, our weather prognosticating tortoise, seeing his shadow – is the sports books putting out over/under season win totals for the baseball season.

The hot stove league is over and the pitchers and catchers started reporting last weekend and we were blessed with the first numbers from one of our neighbors to the north, Steve Mikkelson of the Atlantic Casino in Reno, who has put up the first numbers the past six years, followed closely by the LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, formerly the Hilton and still home of the SuperBook.

Professional bettors love opening numbers, but what they love more is having multiple books so they can grab the best prices on the teams they like and sometimes even find enough difference in the numbers to shoot for a middle before the market adjusts.

Now, World Series futures have been up since last October, when the SuperBook made the Phillies the 4-1 favorite, with the Yankees and Red Sox both at 6-1, the Rangers at 8-1, the Braves at 10-1, the defending champion Cardinals at 12-1, the Rays, Giants, and Tigers at 15-1, and the Angels at 20-1.

Those looked pretty solid until Albert Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels on Dec. 8. That caused the SuperBook to lower the Angels to 7-1 and raise the Cards to 20-1. After two and a half more months of betting, the Phillies are still the favorite but have been raised to 5-1, the Yankees and Tigers are now co-second choices at 6-1, the Angels and Rangers are 8-1, the Red Sox are 9-1, and there’s a dropoff to the Braves, Rays, Giants, Braves and Reds at 15-1. The Cardinals aren’t getting any love at 35-1 behind the Marlins at 20-1 and the Nationals at 25-1.

So, when the over/under season win totals came out, it was no surprise that the teams would rank in pretty much the same order.

The Atlantis set the Phillies with the highest total of 95.5 wins, followed by the Tigers and Rangers at 94.5, the Yankees at 93.5, the Angels at 89.5 and the Red Sox at 87.5. The LVH differed slightly with the Yankees on top at 93.5, followed by the Angels, Tigers and Phillies all at 92.5 (the Phils were promptly bet up to 93), the Rangers at 91.5, and the Red Sox at 89.5. As you can see, there were some differences of opinion between the oddsmakers, allowing early bettors to shop around. Here is the full list from the LVH SuperBook with a second number being what their opening number was bet to on opening day – the book’s opening day, that is. (Note: the biggest moves were on the over on the Nationals as they went from 82.5 to 84.5 and the under on the Twins as they went from 75 to 73.)

New York Yankees 93.5

Philadelphia Phillies 92.5/93

Los Angeles Angels 92.5

Detroit Tigers 92.5

Texas Rangers 91.5

Boston Red Sox 89.5

San Francisco Giants 87.5

Atlanta Braves 87.5/87

Tampa Bay Rays 87

Cincinnati Reds 86.5

Cleveland Indians 86.5

Arizona Diamondbacks 86

Miami Marlins 84.5

Milwaukee Brewers 83.5

Washington Nationals 82.5/84.5

St. Louis Cardinals 82.5/83

Colorado Rockies 82/81

Los Angeles Dodgers 81

Kansas City Royals 80.5

Toronto Blue Jays 80

Minnesota Twins 75/73

Chicago Cubs 74.5

Chicago White Sox 74

San Diego Padres 73.5

Pittsburgh Pirates 73

Seattle Mariners 72

Oakland A’s 71

New York Mets 70.5

Baltimore Orioles 69.5

Houston Astros 64.5/64

The allure of the over/under season win totals is you can bet against a team if you want to. Traditional futures just let you bet on a team to win the title and not against a team. A few books offer that, but you’ll be laying a hefty price (for instance, if you think the Phillies will fail again to win the World Series, you would likely have to lay at least $700 for every $100 you want to profit – the price on other teams will be a lot higher). In addition, you can bet on a team without needing it to go all the way. There can be a lot of times where you think a team will overachieve but you still think it might be a year or two away from being a title contender, so season win totals let you bet on them without asking them to do too much (this applies to all other sports as well).

Futures in other sports

The major focus this time of year is the NCAA men’s basketball with March Madness right around the corner. Entering this weekend, the LVH SuperBook has Kentucky as the 2-1 favorite, followed by Ohio St., Syracuse and North Carolina all at 7-1; Kansas, Michigan State, and Missouri at 10-1, and Duke at 15-1. But I’ll be writing about that the next couple of weeks, so let’s look at some other sports before turning our full attention there.

◗ The NBA is taking its all-star break this weekend with the Heat sitting as a solid 6-5 favorite at LVH (Lucky’s race and sports books has them slightly higher at 13-10). The Bulls are the second choice at 5-1, with the Thunder at 6-1, the Clippers at 10-1, the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs at 12-1, and the Knicks at 15-1. The Knicks’ roller-coaster ride has brought them right back to where they were at the start of the season.

◗ The media coverage pales in comparison, but it’s bordering on Lin-credible (darn it, I said I wasn’t going to go there) what the New York Rangers are doing in the NHL. At the start of the season, they were 30-1 longshots to win the Stanley Cup at the LVH and still 15-1 at their all-star break, but now they’re the 9-2 co-favorites with the Red Wings. The Canucks are right behind them at 5-1, the Bruins are 6-1, and then the Penguins, Sharks and Blackhawks are in a group at 12-1.