Following a weekend that was packed with some big-time action as teams make their playoff pushes, things aren’t slowing down any time soon as we have a 14-game Monday slate coming up to kick off a new batch of series. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/28/2023 and make some predictions.
Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox YRFI (-140)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Cristian Javier (9-2, 4.52 ERA) vs. LHP Chris Sale (5-3, 4.68 ERA)
Let’s kick things off with a near-lock; there are going to be early runs in this Astros-Red Sox matchup. There are times when either one of these arms would have been an auto-NRFI, at least in their half of the inning, but both have fallen on hard times. I especially have concerns about Javier in this one, as he has been extremely poor in first inning, to the tune of a 5.62 ERA.
Chris Sale hasn’t been quite as bad in the first but he’s been arguably worse overall, and will be tasked with facing Houston’s third-ranked first inning offense. They actually perform better on the road, and the Sox first-inning average takes an enormous jump from 0.32 runs on the road to 0.73 at home.
One key factor to this pick is familiarity; one reason pitchers begin to struggle deeper into their starts isn’t just fatigue, it’s batters learning how to hit them. These guys may be dealing with that from the start in this game, as they faced off not long ago. In fact, their most recent starts were a head to head, so both lineups have seen them recently enough that hitters should have a good approach right off the bat.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Kansas City Royals NRFI (-105)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Johan Oviedo (7-13, 4.45 ERA), Zack Greinke (1-12, 5.34 ERA)
This one isn’t quite as iron-clad as the first, but at basically even money, it’s outstanding value. First of all, we aren’t talking about elite offenses; the Royals and Pirates are ranked 23rd and 27th in first inning scoring, respectively.
The starting pitching matchup might also look rough, but there’s a bit of a wrinkle there; Zack Greinke, who has struggled massively in his age-39 season, has still been lights-out in his opening frames. Maybe there’s a fatigue factor for the 20-year vet, but his 2.45 ERA in the first inning is outstanding.
Johan Oviedo has been less effective early on, but it looks like his struggles may have been fueled by issues against the top of the lineup, rather than inherent challenges about starting strong. He’s not going up against a particularly strong top few bats for Kansas City, so let’s see if he’s able to have one of his better performances of the season.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers NRFI (-110) h2>
Starting Pitchers: RHP Zac Gallen (14-5, 3.11 ERA) vs. RHP Bobby Miller (7-3, 3.86 ERA)
This is probably the best starting pitching matchup of Monday’s slate, but they are going up against some pretty solid offenses. The Dodgers in particular have put up some outstanding first-inning production, while the Diamondbacks have slowed down a bit offensively after a major early-season surge. The good news here in terms of the NRFI is that the outstanding LA offense will have to deal with Zac Gallen, who is one of the very best in the business.
Gallen is having another outstanding season and is leading the Cy Young chase, due in part to some serious dominance in the first inning; he’s allowed just a 1.33 ERA in opening frames. He’s going up against Bobby Miller, a rookie who has impressed overall but has not been quite as sharp in the first inning as Gallen. That being said, he does a really good job working against the top few spots in the batting order, so he definitely stands a chance to get those first three outs before giving up a run. At near-even runs, I love this chance to invest in trustworthy arms.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight a few honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
Los Angeles Angels vs. Philadelphia Phillies YRFI (-130)
This one comes largely down to the starting pitching matchup. It’s worth noting that the offenses are both solid in the first inning, LA is 13th in first in the category while the Phillies are 11th. Taijuan Walker has been up and down all year, but the first inning has mostly been a down, unless we’re talking about ERA, which has been way up; he’s earned a figure of 6.57 in opening frames. Toss in Lucas Giolito’s struggles since coming to the City of Angels, and you’ve got a recipe for some runs.
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers YRFI (-120)
These offenses haven’t been particularly explosive in the first inning or overall. The value here comes from the starting pitchers, who have been almost too bad to believe in the first inning. Luis Severino is coming off a nice start, but has had some well-documented struggles this year, including a mind-boggling 13.80 first inning ERA. Things have been better for Reese Olson, but definitely not good with a mark of 7.50 in the first. These aren’t top-tier offenses, but with these pitchers, it’s very hard to believe that six outs will be recorded before a run is scored.
Washington Nationals vs. Toronto Blue Jays NRFI (-135)
Finally, we come to a soundly-favored NRFI that in all likelihood is worth the odds. The Blue Jays offense has been weirdly lethargic this season, especially in the first inning in which they rank 28th in average scoring. They’re going up against Josiah Gray, who has been solid overall and absolutely dominant in the first two innings. The Nationals offense has been strong in the first inning, although much of that track record came before selling at the trade deadline, and they will be going up against Kevi Gausman, one of the AL’s best starters.