With just 12 teams in action this Thursday, every game is on display, including a few featuring teams locked in tight playoff battles. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/17/2023 and make some predictions.
Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Guardians NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Tarik Skubal (2-2, 4.18 ERA) vs. RHP Xzavion Curry (3-1, 3.39 ERA)
Let’s start things off with the lone NRFI in Thursday’s fairly abridged schedule. This matchup is a classic AL Central clash, and there’s always a lot of passion and intensity when two teams from this division meet. The Tigers may be effectively done for the year, but as they showed against the twins, they’re not done playing and are very willing to play the spoiler for their division opponents. Meanwhile, Cleveland is hanging onto a thread in the Central race, 4.5 games out of first as the Twins begin to pull away, so they surely need this one.
To pick up the win, Cleveland will want to get off to a strong start against Detroit’s Tarik Skubal, who has a very interesting track record this season. His overall numbers have been mediocre, but in seven starts, he has yet to allow a run in the first or second inning, and even in the third, his numbers are excellent. Skubal will be facing off against Cleveland’s Xzavion Curry, who has better overall numbers but has not thrown as well in the first inning. Still, he’s in just his second season, and has mostly been used as a reliever; his track record is very limited.
The good news for Curry, and to a slightly lesser extent for Skubal, is that neither team has a good first inning offense. The Guardians are tied for 22nd in the category, and are slightly worse at home, while the Tigers are all the way down in 27th, and struggle mightily on the road. With two intriguing starters and no elite offenses by any stretch, this is a great opportunity to bet on a low-scoring game, particularly in the first inning.
New York Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals YRFI (-140)
Starting Pitchers: LHP José Quintana (0-4, 3.03 ERA) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (3-7, 8.78 ERA)
This game might just be the crown jewel of disappointing NL team matchups, as both of these teams had serious aspirations in 2023 and have come absolutely nowhere clear to living up to expectations. The Mets spent an unbelievable amount of money on big-name players, and weren’t seen as locks to win a very competitive NL East, but were surely expected to secure a Wild Card spot; they are currently11 games below .500, and 7.5 from the 6-seed.
The Cardinals weren’t expected to be quite as much of a juggernaut, but in a weaker NL Central, they were viewed as favorites; they’re tied for the Pirates in dead last, and are not participants in a thrilling three-way division race. On Thursday, they’ll be throwing perhaps the personification of their fall from grace; legendary righty Adam Wainwright, a career cardinal whose distinguished career is finishing in a way that cannot be described as graceful; he’s tossing an ERA of 8.78, and it’s even worse in the first inning.
He’s throwing against José Quintana, who has been a lot better this year, including in the first inning, but over his career, has not necessarily gotten off to strong starts in games. Quintana will be facing a St. Louis offense that has been pretty good to start games, 10th best in the league, fueled by a strong top of the lineup featuring the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Lars Nootbaar. The Cardinals offense has a chance to do some damage against Quintana, who may or may not be due for regression, and there’s unfortunately always good odds for a Wainwright implosion; this is a solid spot to grab YRFI, possibly as a parlay leg.
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers YRFI (+100)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Corbin Burnes (9-6, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (9-9, 5.88 ERA)
What, a YRFI for a Corbin Burnes bump day? Absolutely, as you can see from the odds, it’s not a crazy proposition in this instance, and at even money, it’s some excellent value to wrap up this short but fascinating weekday slate. Of course, at the heart of this projection is the offense Burnes has to face. That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, the league’s second best squad by first inning runs per game, and the third best by total scoring. With stars like Freddie “Frederick” Freeman, Mookie Betts, Will Smith and JD Martinez at the top of the lineup, it’s no shock that opposing starters have a tough time settling in against LA.
The more surprising facet of this pick is that Burnes himself actually underperforms in the first inning, with a subpar 4.88 ERA. He’s also coming off of an uncharacteristically rough start where he was pulled in the sixth inning after giving up five earned runs to the White Sox of all teams.
Burnes is tossing against Lance Lynn, one of the weirder deadline acquisitions we’ve ever seen from a “buying” club. He’s been dreadful this year with an ERA approaching 6.00, and almost unbelievably bad in the first inning with an ERA of exactly 9.00 across 24 appearances. The Brewers’ first inning offense is just about league average, but against a pitcher like Lynn, that’s more than enough for me to be confident that they can get some runs, and do it quickly.