Baseball’s surprise team: It may be Chicago White Sox

Feb 19, 2002 7:59 AM

The Imperial Palace has given the Chicago White Sox a boost as the surprise team for the upcoming 2002 major league baseball season.

If, in fact, there is one.

“We came out with Divisional odds so our customers would have another option besides taking teams to win either the pennant or World Series on the futures line,” said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book manager at the Las Vegas Strip hotel-resort.

The White Sox improved dramatically last year after a brutal start and the season-ending loss of slugger Frank Thomas to earn the Central Division favorite role at 2-3. Chicago finished third with an 83-79 record, but features a young and deep pitching staff along with the acquisition of fleet center fielder Kenny Lofton.

“We went ahead with the Divisional odds, but held off on individual team props for total wins due to the uncertain situation in baseball,” Kornegay said. “There still is a realistic possibility of a strike, so we wanted to wait a few weeks before releasing those figures.”

The New York Yankees are an overwhelming choice to win the American League East, opening at a whopping 1-12. That means a $120 bet on the Yanks will result in just a $10 win or a $130 total for your investment. Blame those odds on the acquisition of Oakland first baseman Jason Giambi and the return of southpaw David Wells.

In other words, try Boston at a more enticing 4-1 odds. Cleveland is the second choice in the Central behind Chicago at 6-5. Minnesota, which was in danger of losing its franchise to contraction, was third at 5-1.

Seattle, which tied the American League record with 116 regular season wins, opens as the 2-5 favorite to capture the Western Division for the second straight year. The Athletics are still a solid 8-5 in the West, but Texas is a team worth watching. The Rangers are 6-1 after acquiring pitcher Chan Ho Park (Dodgers) and power hitters Juan Gonzalez (Indians) and Carl Everett (Red Sox).

The IP opened the New York Mets and Atlanta as 10-11 co-favorites to win the National League East. Both teams were among the most active dealers in the offseason. The Mets acquired All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, first baseman Mo Vaughn and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, along with pitchers Pedro Astacio and Shawn Estes.

The Braves tried to keep pace with New York with the deal that sent Brian Jordan to Los Angeles for slugging outfielder Gary Sheffield. Atlanta also added third baseman Vinny Castilla and pitcher Albie Lopez.

The world champion Arizona Diamondbacks opened as the 5-7 favorite to repeat as Western Division kingpin. San Francisco is second choice at 8-5.

St. Louis, despite the retirement of Mark McGwire, is an even money selection to capture the Central. Houston and the Chicago Cubs are next at 9-5.

The IP is also holding off on its homerun hitting props, but last year’s selection were stellar. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were rated 1-2 in the preseason odds and that’s how they finished.