09/24/2002 11:00PM

Rooting for also-rans


As baseball heads into the final weekend of the regular season, most fans will be watching the pennant races, or what there is left of them.

The Diamondbacks are trying to clinch the NL West title over the Giants. They are also trying to secure home field in next week's divisional playoff matchup with the Cardinals, while the Giants are trying to hold off the Dodgers for the NL wild card. The Yankees are still battling the A's for home field throughout the AL playoffs.

Some bettors have a vested interest in those proceedings - the Diamondbacks were 5-9 favorites to win the NL West and while some bettors are hoping to cash tickets on the Giants at 8-5, they are also watching things of which other baseball fans may be unaware.

Wagering on a team's over/under season win total has become a popular proposition bet in Las Vegas. Most teams are locked up either over or under. With the Cardinals' 94th victory over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday afternoon, there have been 14 teams to go over their total and 13 who have clinched an under, leaving four teams undecided. The Mariners rallied Tuesday night for their 91st win and are trying to match or exceed their total of 93. The Phillies (82) had 79 wins through Tuesday and need a strong finish to catch their total. The Rockies (77) and Marlins (81) would have to sweep their remaining games to get a push and keep from going under.

Bettors have also been following individual races. Alex Rodriguez, with 56 homers heading into Thursday's action, ran away with the home run title. He was the 10-1 fourth choice when the Palms and Imperial Palace put up odds back in February.

The "most wins by a pitcher" prop is going down to the wire as the Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling (7-1), who lost Wednesday, and his teammate Randy Johnson (5-1), who was slated to pitch Thursday at home vs. the Rockies, each have 23 victories. If they both fail to add a victory, Barry Zito (20-1) could match them with a 23rd win on Saturday when the A's take on the Rangers in Texas. In case of a tie, the odds are divided by the number of pitchers who tie for the most wins.

It shouldn't come as any surprise what the biggest money-making teams for bettors have been this season. Through Tuesday's game, the A's had a record of 99-58 and were +25.6 units. If you had bet $100 each time they were an underdog and laid the price each time they were a favorite, you would be up $2,560.

The second-most profitable team is the Angels at +25.5 units. The Twins are next at +18.2. That's a rarity for a team in the Midwest as the biggest money-burners were also located there this season. If you had bet the Cubs every game you would be -45.4 units. The Brewers are -35.6 units, the Tigers are -32 and the Royals are -25.1. That's a lot of bad baseball in the heartland.

The best over teams? The Marlins were 85-69-4 with the over through Tuesday, while the Rangers were 82-69-7. The shocker is that the Diamondbacks, despite having Schilling and Johnson, are No. 3 at 81-68-9.

The Pirates were easily the best under team at 88-59-10 with the Mariners a distant second at 81-66-10.

Football contest notes

Only one of the four handicappers in the Stardust Invitational has a winning record in the first two weeks of the competition, but there's a good chance that will change Friday night when Ted Sevransky and Andy Iskoe square off in the single-elimination competition. Sevransky, who goes under the name of his website whocovers.com, is one game behind the leaders at 12-3 in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest that requires contestants to pick five NFL games each week against the spread. Iskoe of thelogicalapproach.com is 9-6 in the SuperContest. Both also appear on the "Stardust Line" radio show on Saturday nights and when they, along with the other co-host Mike Campanella, all agree on a pick, they are 8-0 so far this season.

* After a 14-2 week, the SuperContest consensus went only 8-6, but if you just took the top five consensus plays, those went 4-1. The Saints were the best bet as 101 of the 281 contestants chose them to beat the Bears, and they did. The SuperContest best bet is 2-1 through the first three weeks. All contestant selections and consensus plays are available every Friday afternoon in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook.

* While three contestants are leading the SuperContest at 13-2, a contestant named MRO is 13-2 and in sole possession of first place in the Gambler's Challenge at Station Casinos. The Gambler's Challenge is basically the same format as the SuperContest, except the entry fee was $1,000 instead of $1,500 and some college sides and NFL totals are offered.

U.S. favored to keep Ryder Cup

Europe has won five of the last eight Ryder Cups against the United States, but the U.S. is favored for this weekend's event at The Belfry in Sutton, England. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the U.S. at -1/2 a win and -170 while the buyback on Europe is +1/2 and +150. That means that if the match ends in a 14-14 tie - which means the Cup is retained by the defending champion, in this case the U.S. - bettors that take Europe will cash.