This weekend was absolutely packed with action as teams across the league played pivotal games in a handful of thrilling playoff races. Monday brings us a 10-game slate as weekday series get started, and with some questionable starting pitching options set to throw, we could be in for a lot of runs. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/21/2023 and make some predictions.
New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves YRFI (-135)
Starting Pitchers: LHP David Peterson (3-7, 5.45 ERA) vs. RHP Allan Winans (1-0, 1.59 ERA)
This one is a classic instance of betting on the YRFI with enormous confidence that one specific half of the inning should go your way, although in this case there’s reason to believe that both halves could feature some runs. The one half that should absolutely see runs scored is the bottom of the first, when the Braves are at the plate.
Atlanta has had the best first inning offense in the league by a country mile, with their average of 0.99 runs per first inning is way ahead of the Dodgers’ 0.74 in second. They’re even better at home, with a staggering average of 1.34 runs scored for first innings played in Atlanta.
They’re going up against David Peterson from the Mets, who has had a rough year overall and has had an especially tough time settling down in the first couple of innings. After being demoted to the bullpen, Peterson had some great outings, but since being pulled back into a starter/opener role, has been much less effective.
That being said, I have more belief in the Mets to score in the first than I would have had just a week or so ago. Firstly, it’s worth noting that they’re facing a rookie who has spent almost all year in the minors; this will be just the third MLB appearance for Allan Winans, who has been impressive thus far, but realistically has no track record. The Mets offense has also recently come to life, and will look to continue their good form against one of their most bitter rivals.
Texas Rangers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks NRFI (+105)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Jordan Montgomery (8-10, 3.30 ERA) vs. RHP Slade Cecconi (0-0, 3.48 ERA)
This situation is similar to the first one in one way, as it involved a solid but mostly unproven rookie arm, but there’s a night and day difference when it comes to the opposing starting pitcher. It’s a lefty again, but this time it’s Jordan Montgomery for the Texas Rangers. He’s been extremely sharp since coming over at the trade deadline, and his first inning numbers stack up well with what he’s done overall.
Circling back to the rookie in question, that would be 2020 first-rounder Slade Cecconi, who will be throwing against a Rangers lineup that has been surprisingly average in the first inning. Arizona’s first inning output has been stronger, but going up against a more established arm like Montgomery, especially in his current form, I like the odds of this one staying scoreless through the first three outs, and the value at +105 is outstanding.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Los Angeles Angels YRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Graham Ashcraft (6-8, 4.89 ERA) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (7-9, 4.44 ERA)
With two solid first-inning offenses set to go up against a pair of very shaky starting pitchers, it’s mildly surprising that even -120 odds are available for this NRFI pick. Lucas Giolito, who came over to the Angels during their bizarre trade deadline period, is particularly likely to get hit hard early in this one; he has better overall numbers than his adversary, but gets lit up in the first inning with an ERA of 6.12 in opening frames. He’s going up against Graham Ashcraft, who has been interestingly enough, very sharp in the first inning but a total disaster in the second, and not so great overall with an ERA approaching 5.00.
We’ll see how strongly he’s able to come out of the gates against a star-studded Angels lineup that includes some of the biggest names in the game, headlined of course by Shohei Ohtani. The offense overall has been a strength for LA, as they rank 9th in the bigs in overall scoring, and 11th in the first inning. Cincy has been even better in opening frames, as they sit 8th on that list. Both of these teams have a good chance to put up some early runs against questionable starters, and I love the value on this pick even at -120.
Kansas City Royals vs. Oakland A’s YRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Tucker Davidson (1-2, 6.39 ERA) vs. Paul Blackburn (3-3, 4.09 ERA)
No, these aren’t my favorite offenses in the whole league to put my faith in, but at close to even money odds, it’s definitely worth the chance to fade these starting pitchers. And when it comes to first inning scoring, these groups aren’t actually as bad as you might imagine. The A’s rank 20th in the category while the Royals are right behind at 21st, not elite by any stretch but ahead of much “stronger” teams like both New York squads, the Blue Jays, and the Giants.
The A’s have a particularly great chance to score against Tucker Davidson, who is making his first start of the season after 24 brutal appearances out of the bullpen between the Angels and Royals. He’s working on his second straight season with an ERA over 6.00, and is no lock to get those first three outs. Oakland’s Paul Blackburn has been better in first innings than overall, but struggles a good bit against spots 3-5 in the lineup; if the Royals are able to get a couple of runners on base and pass the baton to the middle of the lineup, they have a good shot. With #2 hitter Bobby Witt Jr. in outstanding form, I certainly wouldn’t bet against that outcome.