Even with a relatively limited 9-game slate, all of the action this Thursday is absolutely vital. Just a couple of weeks away from the start of the MLB postseason, races are clearing up, but some teams, several of which play Thursday, still have a final statement to make. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/21/2023 and make some predictions.
Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals NRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Max Fried (7-1, 2.64 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Irvin (3-6, 4.34 ERA)
Yes, betting against the Braves offense might feel like a disaster waiting to happen, but that sentiment provides us with nearly even-money value, and there’s reason to believe in this wager. The first of those is the other half of the inning, where Max Fried will be on the bump for Atlanta. He’ll be facing a Nationals offense that got off to a nice start this year, especially in first innings, but ultimately does not have the star power to counteract one of the best first-inning arms in the league. So far, Fried has only thrown 13 games this year after dealing with some injuries, but he’s been excellent, not only overall but in the first inning where he’s earned a ridiculous 0.69 ERA by giving up just one run in those frames. The sample size may be small, but his 0.90 mark from 30 first innings last year should assuage any concerns in that area.
Of course the real challenge here will be the top of the inning, with the Braves at the dish. One thing that’s important to remember here is that while Atlanta has a league-best first inning offense, the home/road split is intense; 1.21 runs per first inning at home, and a still strong but significantly diminished 0.60 on the road. Atlanta’s motivation might also be at an all-time low, as the priority at this point has to be staying healthy for the playoffs, rather than winning contests. Washington’s Jake Irvin has also had a nice year as far as the first inning goes, as he’s earned a 3.13 ERA early on, even though the rookie has struggled later on as he looks to be more comfortable getting length in his starts.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees NRFI (-150)
Starting Pitchers: RHP José Berrios (11-10, 3.49 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.81 ERA)
The odds in this one might not be too enticing, but every card needs a slam-dunk pick, and this one is just that. The Yankees offense had shown some life after the arrival of Jasson Dominguez, but now the rookie sensation is out for the year and the entire offense looks even more deflated than before, as even Aaron Judge is slumping hard. Overall, the team is 22nd in first inning scoring, while the Blue Jays are sitting in 29th. These two teams combined for exactly one run through seven innings yesterday, and no it was not in the first inning; both offenses look completely flat.
The starting pitching matchup is a very solid one as well, featuring first and foremost Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who seems to finally be zeroing in on that Cy Young award. It will be a bittersweet honor for Cole, who absolutely hates losing and will not be appearing in the postseason, but it’s a well-deserved one as his 2.81 ERA is the best in the AL, and second-best in the majors. He’s doing just about as well in the first inning, with a 2.90 mark in opening frames, while Toronto’s José Berrios slightly surpasses his great overall numbers as he’s earned a 3.30 first-inning ERA this year. With two solid arms and no offense in sight, this one justifies the high price point.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics NRFI (-145)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Tarik Skubal (6-3, 3.25 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Medina (3-9, 5.56 ERA)
Yes, this is another one with fairly short odds, but there’s nothing wrong with filling up the ticket with winners. Medina may look like he makes this a rough spot to bet on a six-out shutout, but his overall numbers do not tell the story. Like so many rookies, Medina has struggled with length; he tosses a 3.60 ERA in the first inning, which immediately starts rising with much worse figures in the second and beyond. He also has the pleasure of facing a Detroit lineup that currently ranks 21st in the majors in first-inning offense.
Tarik Skubal, however, is a rookie that does not struggle much with length, or anything really- remember the name, he’s a massive breakout candidate next season, to the extent that you can break out after a season where your ERA was already in the low-3’s. He slings a 2.77 ERA in the first inning, then an 0.69 in the second and 2.77 again in the third, as he is truly a master of getting through the lineup at least once. Going up against an Oakland offense that currently ranks 25th in the league in first-inning scoring, Detroit’s next budding ace should have no problem mowing through the first three batters without surrendering a run.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight an honorable mention that could provide you with some good value
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs YRFI (-110)
This one’s an honorable mention as it’s not necessarily my most confident pick of the slate, but we had to sneak in a YRFI, and a matchup between offenses who managed to pull a NRFI and then score 20 total runs in Wednesday’s clash seems like the perfect fit. Johan Oviedo has been absolutely awful in the first inning with an ERA of 6.30, while things have been better for Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks, but he struggles mightily with cleanup hitters. If Pittsburgh can get a man on base, Hendricks becomes vulnerable, leaving this chance with a great chance to feature runs in either or even both halves of this inning.