Giant $

Apr 29, 2003 6:00 AM

One month into the 2003 baseball season and division races are already beginning to take shape.

Betting on baseball is all about money management. Because point spreads are not involved, it becomes dangerous to bet on 2-1 or 3-1 high priced favorites.

At the same time you must be wary of backing too many underdogs, who are lightly regarded due to many fundamental flaws such as lack of depth.

To nobody’s surprise a team’s profit and loss are related to the win/loss record. The top three teams in baseball (San Francisco, Kansas City and the New York Yankees) have combined to show a profit of better than $3,500 on a $100 wager basis.

The Royals have gotten their profit largely by being significant underdogs. The Yankees have been pretty large favorites while the Giants have been in the middle. At the other extreme are Cleveland, Detroit and Arizona.

The Indians and Tigers were expected to be bad teams in the AL Central, while the Diamondbacks were expected to contend in the NL West. Arizona is just 10-15 beginning the week and has cost their backers more money than any team in baseball. The three teams were minus $3,700 combined.

Here’s a look at some series to be played this weekend.

Expos at Cardinals: Montreal has been a pleasant surprise with outstanding starting pitching for most of April. St Louis has been more of a disappointment, suffering from both weak starting pitching and also poor efforts from the bullpen. The Cardinals do have the more potent lineup although Montreal has the most dangerous hitter in the series, Vladimir Guerrero.

The best Cardinals hurlers to back, especially as underdogs, are Matt Morris and Woody Williams. Jason Simontacchi is struggling and should be played against and OVER the total. The one Montreal hurler to bet against would be Livan Hernandez, though carrying a respectable enough 4.70 ERA. Starts by Morris or Williams can be played UNDER totals of 8 or higher. A start by Simontacchi can be played OVER at 9 or less.

Braves at D’backs: On the surface Arizona would seem to have the sizeable pitching edge with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, but both have struggled with injuries in the first month. Atlanta’s rotation is reshaped from last year with expected ace Greg Maddux only recently showing he might be back to his expected form. Ex-Astros hurlers Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton are question marks. Perhaps Russ Ortiz may wind up being the best starter on the staff.

Reputations may price the totals in this series low enough to consider plays on the OVER. Certainly totals of 9 or less may be viewed that way. We are likely to get lower totals in starts by Schilling, Johnson and Maddux. The best underdog plays would be on Atlanta’s Ortiz and Arizona’s trio of Byung Hyun Kim, Elmer Dessens and Miguel Batista.

A’s at Yanks: Most observers expect this to be a preview of the ALCS this fall with the teams combining to have most of the outstanding pitchers in the league. The Yankees have five outstanding starters. Oakland is almost as deep, given the improvement shown by ex-Yankee Ted Lilly and the early season performance of John Halama.

The preferred play in the series will be the UNDER at totals of 8 or higher in any matchup. Given the quality of all the starters in the series, the Underdog should be considered. Note that the Yankees should have closer Mariano Rivera back after starting the season on the DL.

Twins at Red Sox: Both teams have had similar starts to their seasons, feasting on weaker teams but struggling against the better ones. Minnesota has been the more inconsistent team although Boston’s weakness has been its late relief. The Boston starters, except for ace Pedro Martinez, have also posted poor numbers over their first several starts.

The preferred plays in this series will be OVER the totals at lines of 10 or less. The OVER can also be played when Martinez starts, if not higher than 8. Minnesota pitchers worth backing as underdogs would be Joe Mays and Kyle Lohse. In the unlikely event of Boston being an underdog in any game, the Red Sox would be your play.