It’s almost impossible to believe, but we have officially reached the final stages of the MLB regular season. After Thursday’s action, each team will have just one series left to make their closing statement before the MLB playoffs kick off on Tuesday, and several important postseason races are still absolutely in progress. With 22 teams in action, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/28/2023 and make some predictions.
Kansas City Royals vs. Detroit Tigers NRFI (-140)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Cole Ragans (7-4, 3.31 ERA) vs. RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long (1-0, 2.40 ERA)
This game is taking place in a relatively unique zone; it’s going to start after these two teams wrap up a game that started yesterday, but was suspended due to rain before it could come to a conclusion. Why such an effort is being made to preserve a contest between two eliminated teams, I’m not sure, but it could have something to do with the fact that this is the last weekend of Miguel Cabrera’s illustrious career, and the Tigers want fans to get their money’s worth. Regardless, it’s a great NRFI situation, as we’re looking at two offenses that are just below league average in the first inning, as the Royals sit in 16th place in that category, and the Tigers 21st.
We also have some pitchers who don’t really have stats across a large sample size, but with the opportunities they have been given, they’ve been strong to start out games, and really overall. Ragans has been a bright spot for the Royals since coming over from the Rangers; he struggled in Texas as a reliever, but has put up an ERA of 2.34 in Kansas City, where he’s exclusively started games. That success has absolutely been driven by strong first inning performances, as he’s given up one first-inning earned run, across 11 such appearances for an ERA of 0.82.
Gipson-Long has even less of a track record, as this will be his fourth major league game, but that could be a positive; with all of the tendency charts out there on veteran arms, the quite literal book isn’t out on him yet. He’s also been sharp to start games, as he’s only allowed one first inning run across those three starts, so he stands a great chance against Kansas City’s lineup, especially if starters are rested after wrapping up the first game.
New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays YRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Luke Weaver (3-5, 6.47 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.74 ERA)
To put it extremely simply, the Toronto Blue Jays are painfully due, as they haven’t scored a run yet throughout the first two games of this three-game set against the New York Yankees. This is genuinely one of the most embarrassing performances you will ever see in your life, considering the facts that the Yankees are eliminated with nothing to play for, and the Blue Jays are fighting for their lives in the AL Playoff race. That being said, Toronto cannot and will not simply fold again, especially against Luke Weaver, who is genuinely awful, especially in the first inning. If you looked at his overall ERA and thought that it couldn’t possibly get worse, you were wrong- he’s allowed an astronomical figure of 11.62 in opening frames.
Toronto’s Chris Bassitt isn’t nearly on the same level in any capacity, but he follows a similar blueprint; he’s much less effective in the first inning than he is the rest of the way. You can see his ERA above, and it’s highly respectable, especially in such an offense-heavy season. That number is inflated to 5.62 in the first inning, which is a problem against a Yankees lineup that includes Aaron Judge and a very hot Gleyber Torres near the top. Speaking of which, the Bronx Bombers have quite predictably snapped into form now that the stakes have reached zero, so they’re in prime position to hit Bassitt early and often this Thursday.
Texas Rangers vs. Seattle Mariners YRFI (-XXX)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Jordan Montgomery (10-11, 3.25 ERA) vs. RHP Logan Gilbert (13-7, 3.75 ERA)
While you’ll often see intense pitcher’s duels in key battles between division rivals, this is not one of those moments, given these offenses and the pitchers who will be on the mound. This AL West race has been defined by explosiveness, both in terms of the style of play and tensions flaring between these two teams and the Houston Astros. It’s not tough to understand why; the Rangers are in first place with the Astros just 2.5 games behind, and the Mariners trailing Houston by 1.5 games in the Wild Card race. The lineups will be fired up, and they’ve been pretty solid in the first inning; Seattle ranks 9th in the league in opening-frame offense, while Texas is sitting just a spot below in tenth.
The pitching matchup is an interesting one, as both Logan Gilbert and Jordan Montgomery have been pretty effective this year, especially since the latter has settled in a bit after an initial post-trade rough patch. He’s been solid in the first inning, but as a lefty, it’s hard to imagine that he’s excited at the prospect of facing tough Mariners righty bats such as Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernandez. On the other side of the diamond, Gilbert has had a solid enough season for Seattle, but he’s had issues starting off games. He throws an ERA of 6.10 in the first inning, and going up against a potent Rangers offense that has been re-finding its groove in recent days, headlined by superstar lefty bat Corey Seager near the top of the lineup, he could be in for a long opening frame.