03/24/2011 3:30PM

Phillies favored to win World Series thanks to four aces


It’s spring, and as the old saying goes, ’tis the season when a young man’s fancy turns to baseball.

Maybe it’s because the NCAA Tournament is dwindling down to fewer games, or perhaps it’s the labor strife in football and basketball that threatens their next seasons, but it seems like baseball is getting more attention these days ( and we’re not just talking about the Barry Bonds perjury trial).

The Giants are the defending World Series champions, but like last season, they’re not the favorite to win the title. That distinction doesn’t go to the perennial powerhouse Yankees or even the Red Sox, either, but to the Phillies, who have compiled what some call the best starting pitching rotation of all-time: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The Las Vegas Hilton has the Phillies as the 9-4 favorite.

The Red Sox are the second choice at 4-1, with the Yankees at 6-1 and the Giants at 15-1 along with the Brewers. The Rangers, the defending AL champions, are in a group at 20-1 that also includes the Braves, White Sox, and Tigers.

While the Giants are the second choice to win the NL pennant − though a distant 7-1 behind the Phillies’ 10-11 odds − the Rangers aren’t getting much respect in the AL; they trail the Red Sox (9-5) and Yankees (11-4) at 8-1, along with the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers.

At least the Rangers can lay claim to being the even-money favorite to win the AL West, with the A’s at 9-5 and the Angels at 11-4. The other divisional favorites are the Phillies, who are 1-4 in the NL East, with the Braves a distant second at 4-1; the Reds and Brewers, who are the co-favorites at 7-4 in the NL Central; the Giants, who are 3-2 in the NL West, with the Rockies at 7-4; the Red Sox, who are 4-7 in the AL East, with the Yankees at 2-1; and the Twins, who are 8-5 in the AL Central. The race in the Central could be the tightest in baseball, though, with the Tigers and White Sox both 7-4.

But most of the talk still revolves around the Phillies, who have been battling injuries this spring but still look strong, especially with their starting pitching. However, that doesn’t always guarantee a ring, as the Atlanta Braves proved in the 1990s, when they had a rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery.

Some books have even posted prop bets on the Philadelphia pitching staff, such as over/under 59.5 wins from the starters. Bettors who jumped on the over got a scare Wednesday, when Oswalt was hit in the back of the neck by a Manny Ramirez line drive in a spring training game in Port Charlotte, Fla. Early reports say Oswalt is going to be OK and may not even miss any time in spring training, but it does show that the under is usually the way to go when so many things can go wrong.

The Phillies’ total over/under wins is set at 96.5 with the Red Sox a close second at 95.5 (the Yankees are at 91.5), so as you can see there are many ways to bet the upcoming baseball season, and we haven’t even touched on all the individual player props available.

So buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack, and enjoy the season.

More sports book notes

As if you didn’t know from all the promos during the March Madness coverage on CBS, the Masters takes place April 7-10 at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Tiger Woods is in his accustomed role as betting favorite, but he is in unfamiliar territory as the lukewarm 7-1 choice after a scandal-filled and inconsistent 2010. At the height of his powers, he would be around 2-1, even against the best of fields. Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 8-1, followed by the foursome of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, and Nick Watney at 15-1 apiece.

◗ As the Heat cools down, the NBA season is heating up. Miami has been the heavy favorite since “The Decision” last summer, but that changed earlier this month when the Heat went on a four-game losing streak. The two-time defending champion Lakers have replaced them as the 9-4 favorite at the Hilton with even the Celtics at 5-2 ahead of the Heat at 3-1. It’s also interesting to note that as of Thursday morning, the teams with the best record in each conference − the Bulls in the East and the Spurs in the West − are at 6-1 as co-fourth choices. There is then a gap to the Mavericks at 12-1 and the Thunder at 15-1.

◗ The Canucks are the 7-2 favorite to win the Stanley Cup, followed by the Capitals and Red Wings at 9-2, the Bruins at 7-1, and the Sharks at 10-1. The Penguins, awaiting the return of Sidney Crosby, are 15-1 along with the defending champion Blackhawks.

◗ We’re a long way from knowing if there will be an NFL season, but sports books are still taking bets on the assumption that there will be a 2010-11 champion declared (otherwise all bets would be refunded). The Patriots are the 5-1 favorite, with the defending champion Packers at 6-1, the Steelers at 8-1, and the Ravens, Jets, and Chargers at 12-1.

◗ We’re waiting for the NCAA basketball champion to be crowned, but betting is going strong for the college football season. The Hilton’s odds to win the BCS title game − which will be held at the Louisiana Superdome on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 − have Oklahoma as the 4-1 favorite. Alabama is next at 5-1, followed by Oregon at 10-1, LSU at 12-1, and Stanford, Boise St., and Florida St. at 15-1.