05/31/2005 11:00PM

White Sox provide most profit

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It seems like yesterday that the Red Sox and Yankees opened the baseball season April 3, but it has been two months already.

That's enough of a sample to get a good read on the winners and losers so far this season. The obvious place to look is in the standings. Through Tuesday night's action, the division leaders were the Orioles in the AL East, the White Sox in the AL Central, the Rangers in the AL West, the Braves and Marlins tied atop the NL East, the Cardinals in the NL Central, and the Padres in the NL West.

For the most part, those teams have been the best bets so far, but it's not cut-and-dried. The most profitable team for bettors has been the White Sox, as a $100 bet on all of their games through the end of May would have resulted in a net profit of about $1,580. The surprising Padres have been the second-most profitable team for bettors at +$1,280. The Rangers were at $1,025 after a nine-game winning streak through Tuesday.

The Orioles are at +$705, though the third-place team in their division, the Blue Jays, actually have been a slightly better bet at +$800. The Cardinals, despite having the second-best record in baseball at 33-18, are only at +545 because they're often laying a big price which eats into their profits when they lose. In the NL East, the Braves were showing just a $40 profit while the Marlins were actually a money-loser at -$75.

But that's nothing compared to the worst bet in the league, the Royals at -$1,695. Other cellar-dwellers are right behind them as the Astros are at -$1,630 and the Rockies are -$1,575. The fourth-worst team to bet on might surprise you, but the Yankees are -$1,410, losing a lot more money for bettors when they lose than they can recoup when they win.

Be wary of using any of the above information for future wagers as the oddsmakers have obviously been adjusting prices based on those results, and bettors taking hot teams tend to have to pay a premium, and that leads to a reversal of fortunes.

Speaking of adjusting, expect oddsmakers to start shading over/under totals lower. Scoring is down in the majors this year by a half-run per game, and bettors who have been pounding the under have been doing well. In fact, only eight teams have more overs than unders.

The best over team has been the Royals at 28-21, which converted to a $100 bet on each game would be a net profit of only $490. The only other AL team with more overs is the Devil Rays at 25-23. In the NL, the over teams are the Reds (29-23), Phillies (26-22), Padres (27-23), Cardinals (25-23), Dodgers (24-22), and Rockies (24-23).

The other 24 major league teams have more unders, led by the White Sox with a 31-16 mark, or a profit of $1,340. Obviously, parlays with the White Sox and under have been very profitable. Other top under teams have been the Mariners (30-18), Cubs (27-18), Diamondbacks (30-20), Brewers (29-20), Blue Jays (29-20), and Astros (28-20).

Obviously, most people don't bet teams blindly game after game. However, I wish I had been one of them so far this season. In my season preview on April 2, I listed six teams to play (Orioles, Tigers, Mariners, Nationals, Reds, and Giants) along with seven "play against" teams (Yankees and Red Sox in AL East, Twins, A's, Phillies, Astros, and Dodgers). A flat $100 on all the play-on teams through Tuesday would have netted a loss of $1,284, but bets against the play-against teams would have profited $3,225 for a net profit of $1,941.

Picking good, bad, and ugly

If you're like me, you're tired of handicappers highlighting their winners and hiding their losers, so permit me to take myself down a few notches.

For starters, my top three picks in the Preakness - Wilko, Galloping Grocer, and Going Wild - ran 12-13-14. At least there I was going for a score, so that wasn't as embarrassing as my handicapping performance last weekend in the Arena Football League playoffs. The league had a free Pick'em Challenge contest - no point spreads, just picking straight-up winners - on the first-round games, and I went 0 for 4.

This weekend, the AFL holds its semifinals with the Georgia Force hosting the Orlando Predators on Saturday and the Colorado Crush hosting the Chicago Rush on Sunday. The Force is -5 1/2 vs. the Predators with an over/under at 99 points. The Crush is -3 vs. the Rush with a total of 105.

Last weekend, three of the four playoffs games went under, and I will look for that trend to continue as game plans could get more conservative as these teams are vying for berths in ArenaBowl XIX, to be played here in Vegas on June 12.

I'm also taking the Predators +5 1/2 and the Crush -3.

Hopefully, another 0 for 4 isn't in the offing.

* Fresh off his third straight victory in the Coca-Cola 600, Jimmie Johnson is the 7-1 co-favorite along with Ryan Newman in Sunday's Nextel Cup race, the MBNA RacePoints 400 at Dover Downs International Raceway. Tony Stewart and Mark Martin are 8-1 in the odds at Station Casinos, with Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne at 9-1.

* There are no major boxing matches in Vegas this weekend, and to find one you would have to go all the way to Manchester, England, to watch Kostya Tszyu face Ricky Hatton on Saturday. But you can bet it here, as Station Casinos has Tszyu as a -270 favorite in the battle of light welterweights. The next major fight here in the States is the junior welterweight title bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti on June 25 in Atlantic City. Mayweather is a -400 favorite.

* By the time you read this, the Spurs may have already wrapped up the Western Conference title as they led 3-1 going into Wednesday night's game at Phoenix. Otherwise, the series is returning to San Antonio for a sixth game on Friday night. But we're guaranteed a Game 6 in the Eastern Conference on Saturday as the Heat and Pistons were tied 2-2 heading into Thursday's action. Look to the under in these games as the playoff pressure gets turned up.