03/28/2003 12:00AM

Reds should keep you in black


LAS VEGAS - This is the second of a two-part baseball season preview, concentrating on which teams - and especially pitchers - are likely to offer betting value during the season. Today, a look at the National League.

NL East

Braves: Atlanta lost Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood, but reloaded with Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Paul Byrd. A popular bet with some Las Vegas locals is to put the Yankees, Red Sox (when Pedro Martinez is on the mound), Diamondbacks (with Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling), and Braves in a chalk parlay and cheer for the favorites to sweep. The Braves can still be put in that mix of likely winners on a day-to-day basis, but there will be plenty of spots to bet against them when the price is right.

Phillies: After stealing Millwood from the Braves and adding slugger Jim Thome, the Phillies think they can compete with the Braves. Millwood, Vincente Padilla, and Randy Wolf can be bet with confidence, though closer Jose Mesa blew nine save opportunities last year. With a suspect bullpen, the Phillies could be a good "under" bet.

Mets: The Mets' offense should give the pitching staff plenty of run support. Glavine and Al Leiter should offer value, especially on the road vs. divisions foes. Bet-against pitchers would be Pedro Astacio and David Cone (for as long as he lasts).

Marlins: The Marlins are overmatched in this division. I would look to play the under in games pitched by A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett because they usually hold the other team in check. I also wouldn't hesitate backing them at 2-1 or better, especially at home.

Expos: Montreal will finish either fourth or fifth in the division, but the Expos can make you some money along the way. The offense, with Jose Vidro and Vladimir Guerrero, will put up runs on occasion and should provide wins for Livan Hernandez, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Javier Vasquez, and Tony Armas Jr. They could all show a flat-bet profit for the season as they will often be underdogs, even at home.

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

Value play: Mets (2-1).

NL Central

Cardinals: The Cards are loaded and could be a good "over" play, based on their offensive firepower alone. Matt Morris offers no value because he will be overpriced, but you might find good betting opportunities when Woody Williams or Brett Tomko are on the mound.

Astros: The Astros should also be a good "over" team, especially at home. Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller can outduel any pitcher and should be backed the rare times they're underdogs. Brian Moehler has to be considered a go-against pitcher, especially if he's overpriced at home.

Cubs: The Cubs should be considered an "under" bet until the offense proves it can do more than just sit around and wait for Sammy Sosa to hit homers. Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano are all solid plays as underdogs.

Reds: Teams often respond well in a new stadium (Great American Ballpark), and if Ken Griffey Jr. stays healthy, this could be a darkhorse in the NL Central race. The Reds don't have any "name" pitchers, but Jimmy Haynes, Ryan Dempster, and Danny Graves should offer bettors some value all season long.

Pirates: This team doesn't have the depth to challenge for the division title, but you can cash some nice tickets when Kris Benson or Kip Wells is on the mound. Those two could also contribute to a fair share of unders.

Brewers: Ben Sheets would be bettable more often if he didn't play for Milwaukee, but he should be given consideration at 2-1 or better. Glendon Rusch could also show a profit if he gets some run support.

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

Value play: Reds (7-1).

NL West

Diamondbacks: If the D-Backs' offense is in a slump, that's the time to bet against Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but do it with caution. Elmer Dessens steps into the No. 3 spot in the rotation and might have some betting value (at least in relation to Johnson and Schilling). Byung-Hyun Kim should be considered a go-against until he proves he's a better starter than he was as a reliever.

Giants: The Giants lost Jeff Kent and manager Dusty Baker, but they might be a better team this year. New additions include second baseman Ray Durham, third baseman Edgar Alfonso, and right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. Kirk Reuter, Jason Schmidt, and Damian Moss are solid plays when not laying too much.

Dodgers: Hideo Nomo and Odalis Perez were solid last year, but they could bounce. I will play against them early. Kevin Brown will probably offer value only on the road, and the Dodgers were second in the league last year with 399 runs scored away from home.

Rockies: I lucked into a winning prediction last year when I wrote: "If totals at Coors Field stay around 13, I'll be looking to play a lot of unders." I had no idea about the humidor used to make the baseballs fly like they do at sea level. With oddsmakers having adjusted the totals downward, you might see more overs early this season. Jason Jennings and Denny Stark are the only backable pitchers.

Padres: With closer Trevor Hoffman out until midseason, the Padres can't be backed with much confidence. The over might be the way to go, especially if the offense jells.

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

Value play: Giants (14-5).

NL futures and over/under picks

There are many intriguing longshots (Mets, Astros, Reds, Giants), but the problem is you don't know which four teams will even make the postseason. It's best to hold onto your money and parlay the longshot survivor with series bets as they work through the playoffs.

Teams I expect to go over their season win totals are the Braves (91.5), Mets (87.5), Reds (78.5), and Giants (86.5). Teams I see going under are the Phillies (88.5), Marlins (76.5), Brewers (64.5), and Dodgers (85.5).