It’s hard to believe it, but we’ve reached the second to last Saturday slate of the 2023 MLB regular season. There’s some rough weather on the East Coast, but still some great games to be played with the playoff picture set to fully come into focus over the next few days.. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/23/2023 and make some predictions.
New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies NRFI (-140)
Starting Pitchers:LHP José Quintana (3-5, 3.02 ERA) vs.RHP Zack Wheeler (12-6, 3.63 ERA)
If you’ve been following this series all season long, or even recently, you’ve probably learned by now that the Mets, despite their high-price lineup, continue to have the worst first inning offense in the majors, by a decent margin to at just 0.34 runs per first inning compared to 0.42 for Toronto in 29th. The Phillies lineup has been much better in opening frames, but at 12th best at home, they don’t receive the bump you might expect from raucous Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies will be tossing Zack Wheeler, who has made 30 starts so far this season and has earned a first inning ERA of 3.00 across those appearances.
As for the Mets, it’ll be José Quintana on the mound. After surgery to repair a lesion on his ribs back in March, he finally made his season debut in late July, and has been very sharp ever since. He’s only made 11 starts, but in those appearances, he’s routinely started off strong. He’s recorded a first inning ERA of 3.27, but after that, it’s been 2.45 in the second, and he’s yet to allow a third-inning run. He’s also been dominant against the top of the lineup, holding the top couple batters to an OPS of .615, while that figure is .677 for batters 3 through 6. With one of the league’s worst offenses on tap and solid arms on both sides, there’s a very good chance at the six-out shutout in this one.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-115)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Hyun-jin Ryu (3-3, 2.62 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Littell (3-6, 4.12 ERA)
When division rivals face off, especially when both sides are embroiled in the thick of their own respective playoff races- Tampa pushing to snare the AL East crown and Toronto fighting just to make it into the postseason- the intensity is likely to be at an all-time high. Low-scoring pitcher’s duels are not out of the question, and in this case, that’s doubly true due to a solid pair of starting pitchers. It also helps the NRFI that Toronto is still sitting in 29th place amongst all first-inning offenses in the majors, and they’re even worse at home.
Both of these starters have worked through a relatively small sample size due to some injury issues, but they’ve both been great to start games. Ryu has been great throughout the first three innings of the game, with a 3.00 ERA in the first, before putting up figures of 1.00 and 2.00 in the next two frames, so he’s been strong the entire first time through the lineup. Littell tapers off a bit more as the game goes on, but he’s been even stronger in the first inning itself as he’s put up an 0.69 ERA in those opportunities. Both of these arms have a great chance to get through the first three outs before surrendering a run, and at nearly-even odds, this is a great value.
Seattle Mariners vs. Texas Rangers NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Logan Gilbert (13-6, 3.77 ERA) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (9-11, 3.38 ERA)
This one’s another division battle between teams with enormous playoff stakes, but it’s even more interesting as the Mariners and Rangers are fighting directly against each other in the quest for October. After a great start to the season, the Rangers have faltered, while the Mariners’ surge in recent weeks has had them rise seemingly from the dead in not just the Wild Card, but also the AL West race, a three-way battle between these two clubs and the Houston Astros. Texas currently holds the crown, with Houston a half-game back, and Seattle only a game away, but they’re out of the playoff picture entirely; that’s just how high the stakes are. In a game that could very well swing the entire season, both sides are throwing solid starting pitchers.
For Seattle, it’s Logan Gilbert who has been solid overall but rough in the first inning. As the Rangers have trended down as a team, so has their first inning offense- the unit is down to 13th-best in baseball after sitting in the top five for much of of the season. Texas is throwing Jordan Montgomery, who has been excellent since coming over from St. Louis with an ERA of 3.29 and a WHIP of 1.098. He’s great the first time through the order, with a 3.00 ERA in the first inning, and 1.80 in the second. If Gilbert can survive his half of the inning against a faltering Texas lineup, this NRFI has a great chance to hit with Montgomery in excellent form, particularly early in ballgames.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight an honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
Kansas City Royals vs. Houston Astros YRFI (-120)
We had to sneak a YRFI in here in some capacity, so here it is; the Astros’ first inning offense, which is third-best in the MLB, going up against Kansas City’s Jordan Lyles, who has racked up an ERA of 6.83 in the first inning. In fact, the books are so high on Houston’s offense in this one that they’ve set the spread at 2.5 instead of the customary 1.5. Houston’s JP France, who has earned a first inning ERA of 4.91, will be going against a Royals first inning offense that ranks a surprising 19th in the league.