Updated on 09/16/2011 7:04AM

Betting baseball, it happens every spring


LAST VEGAS - ESPN's Al Bernstein, who hosts a daily sports talk show in Las Vegas, recently played "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." I was literally in tears, as much from laughing as from feelings of sadness, remembering my youth when "next year" never came for the Cubbies.

But spring is a time for rebirth, and baseball is for the eternal optimist. A new baseball season begins Sunday, and it should make us all feel young.

But as I've grown older, I've also discovered this: baseball is a great betting sport. Nearly every day for the next seven months, games will be played. Most of the betting will be on who wins straight up. Bettors need not worry over who covers the spread. The dime line - a gap of 10 cent between the favorite and underdog - makes it a beatable game for the bettors who pick their spots wisely. And by the very nature of the game, even the biggest underdogs have a legitimate chance to win every day, and often they do.

Here's a look at which teams, and specifically which pitchers, will offer betting value, as well as teams' season-long prospects:

American League East

Yankees: This team is loaded, 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 their games. Mike Mussina, who had a lower ERA and allowed fewer hits and walks per inning than Roger Clemens did last year - despite Clemens going 20-3 while Mussina was 17-11 - will be a better bet than Clemens this year, as the offense should give the pitchers more run support.

Red Sox: John Burkett and Dustin Hermanson, two pitchers acquired in the off-season, will tell the tale for the Red Sox. If they return to past form, they will be good bets. I like to go against Pedro Martinez when he faces quality pitchers , who usually are still are at least 2-1 underdogs. It's a money-maker.

Blue Jays: The lineup can score runs, with Raul Mondesi, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Cruz Jr. in the heart of the order. But the pitching staff has question marks. Roy Halladay is showing the promise of fulfilling his potential, and could be a value play.

Orioles: The O's are short on pitching and they won't contend for a playoff spot, but they'll win their share of games as nice-priced dogs.

Devil Rays: This team is building for the future, assuming it is not a victim of contraction. I won't bet many of Devil Rays games because the odds won't often be high enough to warrant a play on them and will often be too high on their opponents.

Most likely division winner: Yankees (1-12).

Value play: None.

American League Central

White Sox: The White Sox played well the second half of last season, but everyone, including oddsmakers, seems to be on their bandwagon. I'll be looking to play against them with their anticipated inflated lines.

Indians: This team's strength has changed from hitting to pitching. That's good for bettors, because many people perceive this team on a downward trend. Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia, and Chuck Finley are pitchers to play.

Twins: Despite the Twins showing they had talent last year, people still don't respect them. I like betting on a team with an us-versus-the-world mentality (in Minnesota's case, in regards to the threat of league contraction). Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, and Rick Reed are all worthy of plays as underdogs.

Tigers: The offense will struggle, but Jeff Weaver and Steve Parks could be profitable pitchers, especially on the road.

Royals: I'll be playing against this team when the price isn't too high. Jeff Suppan is the only starter I trust consistently against better teams.

Most likely division winner: White Sox (1-2).

Value play: Twins (3-1).

American League West

Mariners: They won't come near 116 wins again, and will be a value play to bet against until bookmakers adjust their odds. Jamie Moyer, 20-6 last year, will be grossly overpriced on the betting line. Unless he continues to win with mirrors at that pace, it'll be very profitable to go against him, at a price, every time he works.

Athletics: The loss of Jason Giambi can't be underestimated. This is another team whose games put value will be on the opposition, especially when Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder aren't on the mound.

Rangers: The lineup will score a lot of runs, and can beat any pitcher. It will be interesting to see how former NL pitchers Chan Ho Park and Ismael Valdes adjust to the AL. If they adjust well, this team will improve dramatically and will win bettors a lot of Rangers/over parlays.

Angels: This team might very well finish last in this division, but it might be the top money-maker for bettors. Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele, and Kevin Appier are bettable against anyone, and they will be nice-priced dogs against much their competition in the division.

Most likely division winner: Mariners (5-11).

Value play: Rangers (9-2).

National League East

Braves: With the addition of Gary Sheffield and Vinny Castilla, this team appears to be loading up for one last run with its aging veterans. But that will give value to dog players looking to go against Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Just be prepared for wins to be few and far between. It's imperative to pick your spots with capable pitchers throwing for the Braves' opposition.

Mets: The Mets also spent a lot in the off-season, and can be beaten at a price. Bet-against pitchers are Pedro Astacio, Steve Trachsel, and Jeff D'Amico.

Phillies: This team doesn't have the players or the money to keep up with the Braves or Mets. Robert Person, the ace, can be lit up. I would rather back Vincente Padill, if he stays in the starting rotation.

Marlins: I thought this team was on the improve last year, but now it looks like they're gutting the team again and unloading salaries. But they are a playable dog with Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett, or Brad Penny on the mound.

Expos: As opposed to the Twins, this team will not get my backing much, except maybe when Tony Armas Jr. is a nice-priced dog.

Most likely division winner: Braves (10-11).

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

National League Central

Cardinals: This team should excel now that its players aren't going to be be sitting around waiting for a Mark McGwire homer, or getting depressed when he's hurt. They'll probably be a decent price only on the road, but every starter is worth backing.

Cubs: I'm trying not to get too giddy about the Cubs' chances this year. Cubs Fever is a chronic condition. Jon Lieber isn't flashy, so his odds usually aren't too prohibitive. Kerry Wood, as much as I like him, is usually overvalued and a go-against when facing a offense that can touch him - which is rare when he is on top of his game.

Astros: This team is dangerous, though the loss of Moises Alou to the Cubs hurts them in the division. Wade Miller's and Roy Oswalt's stock should continue to rise, but they'll probably be bettable only on the road.

Reds: Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sean Casey will show glimpses of past glory on offense, but the starting pitching is suspect at best. They're a definite go-against team at home.

Brewers: They are hit or miss, mostly miss. Last year, they were the first team in history to have more strikeouts than hits. But if they hit when Jamey Wright, Ben Sheet, or Glendon Rusch take the mound they could cash some nice tickets.

Pirates: This team is back in the dumps. But you can't bet against them every game because the price will be too steep.

Most likely division winner: Cardinals (5-9).

Value play: Cubs (5-2).

National League West

Diamondbacks: Look for a dropoff from the defending world champs because everyone will be gunning for them all 162 games. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are awesome, but they can't win 1-0 and 2-1 games forever. Now is the time to start betting against them.

Giants: Once Jeff Kent returns to offer protection to Barry Bonds, this offense will be top-notch. I wouldn't hesitate to back any of the starting pitchers - Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt, Livan Hernandez, or Kirk Rueter. Again, you might have to wait for them to be on the road to avoid laying more than -200.

Dodgers: Kevin Brown is the man, but can he and Andy Ashby stay healthy for a full season? That's the question for the Dodgers, who shouldn't have trouble scoring runs. If Japanese import Kazuhisa Ishii lives up to his press clippings, and if Odalis Perez gets the shot he never really got with the Braves, they could become the southpaws the Dodgers have long been seeking. They're worth an early look.

Rockies: If totals at Coors Field stay around 13, I'll be looking to play a lot of unders. Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle should rebound from disappointing seasons, and the offense doesn't look as potent as it was last season, although in the thin air of Denver that might not matter.

Padres: The Padres are the West Coast version of the Brewers. They were shut out 16 times last year, but still scored a lot of runs. Unless they explode on nights you bet against them, you should be able to make money betting against Bobby Jones and Brian Tollberg.

Most likely division winner: Diamondbacks (5-9).

Value play: Giants (8-5).

World Series and over/under

Among the obvious contenders, the Cardinals are my pick to win the World Series at 8-1. Top to bottom, manager Tony LaRussa has put together a balanced team. No mega-superstars among the position players or pitchers, but solid throughout.

I don't recommend tying up money for seven months, but other teams worth taking a stab at include the Mets (12-1), Giants (15-1), Rangers (20-1). With the lack of parity in baseball - as opposed to the NFL - I wouldn't take any longer longshots than those.

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 its total. Teams I expect to go over their posted numbers are the Cardinals (93), Braves (91), Giants (89), Rangers (86) and Dodgers (84). Teams I see going under their totals are Mariners (93), Red Sox (89), Phillies (82), Marlins (81), and Pirates (67 1/2).