After some thrilling action on Friday and Saturday, all 15 MLB teams are in action on Sunday once again as this weekend’s series will reach their conclusions. With so much on the line for teams in the thick of playoff races, there’s plenty on the line for bettors as well, so let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/3/2023 and make some predictions.
Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds YRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Jameson Taillon (7-9, 5.62 ERA) vs. RHP Carson Spiers (N/A)
Even at -130 odds, this is some absolute must-have slam dunk action. Jameson Taillon has been pretty brutal in his first year with the Northsiders, putting up a career-worst ERA. Things have only been worse in the first inning, where he’s earned an unenviable mark of 7.50, and he’s also gotten hit hard by the first and third hitters in the batting order.
He’s going up against Carson Spiers, who doesn’t have any negative trends like that, but that’s only because this will be his MLB debut. That’s never a guarantee of a lockdown performance, but Spiers isn’t even here because the Reds think he’s ready; he’s an emergency call-up after COVID-19 has run its way through the Reds’ rotation. Spiers has been pretty middling in the minors, and has struggled hard against lefties; this could be an issue in his first MLB inning as he will have to face Mike Tauchman, Ian Happ, who is a switch-hitter but analytics suggest should be a lefty full time, and superstar Cody Bellinger, also a lefty. These two first-inning offenses are about league average, but against a debutant and a disaster, they could both rack up some runs
Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals NRFI (-115)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Sandy Alcántara (6-12, 4.23 ERA) vs. RHP Josiah Gray (7-11, 4.05 ERA)
With essentially even odds, this is an excellent opportunity to invest in two starters who have been first-inning aces, even amidst seasons that have been up-and-down overall. A year after a dominating campaign and well-deserved Cy Young Award, Alcántara hasn’t been able to recapture the magic in Miami. That being said, he’s still been quite effective in the first inning with a 3.33 ERA. His struggles often come later in the game, suggesting that some of the issue might be fatigue-related after the workload he took last year, and continues to shoulder this season.
He’ll be throwing against Washington’s Josiah Gray, who has also been hit hard later in games, but has been sharp across the first two innings. Specifically in the opening frame, he has earned an ERA of 2.42 over 26 appearances, as opponents have hit just .176 against him in those situations. As far as first inning offenses, the Nationals are interestingly seventh-best in the league, although some of that track record was earned before they were deadline sellers. On the other hand, the Marlins are a pathetic 29th, exactly what you want to see when betting a NRFI.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Colorado Rockies NRFI (+125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Kevin Gausman (10-8, 3.30) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (0-4, 6.08 ERA)
Let’s get into a pick that isn’t necessarily a lock but is absolutely undervalued at +125 odds. On one side, you have Kevin Gausman, one of the most underrated starting pitchers in the majors. He’s been excellent now for both Toronto in the AL and the San Francisco Giants in the NL, showing an ability to adapt and play well regardless of situation. While Gausman is putting up another nice overall season, he hasn’t been a first inning maestro this season, but he should be sharp enough to limit a Rockies first inning offense that ranks 19th overall, and demonstrated no home boost at hitter-friendly Coors field.
Colorado will be tossing Chase Anderson, who had had a pretty rough year across a dozen starts and two relief appearances, but has shown some positive trends in the first inning, where he has an ERA of 1.50. Weirdly enough, he’s also thrown well against second and third hitters in the lineup, another positive for this scenario. And perhaps most importantly, Anderson will have the pleasure of throwing against a Toronto lineup that has ranked a surprising 28th in first inning scoring. It’s an interesting pitching matchup, but I love the value available here given the state of the two offenses.
NRFI Best Bet Honorable Mentions
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
Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers NRFI (-110)
Betting against these two offenses might seem like a curious choice, especially at the top of the orders, which feature some of the game’s biggest stars. However, the first two games of this weekend series both ended in NRFIs, and let’s not forget that we aren’t betting against the hitters, but rather on the pitchers. Charlie Morton is putting up another nice year in Atlanta with a 3.29 ERA, and he’s also been sub-4.00 in the first inning. Rookie Bobby Miller has been a bit less outstanding overall, but has been in a similar range in the first, and has every chance to get those first three outs before surrendering a run.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Guardians YRFI (-128)
It’s worth noting that odds for this one have varied pretty significantly from sportsbook to sportsbook, so I’d encourage you to shop around for odds if you have access to multiple platforms. This is a bit of a different situation than the Braves/Dodgers clash, where we’re looking at two non-elite offenses, especially of late in Tampa;s case, but a pitching matchup that almost forces our hand. Tampa’s Taj Bradley has been rough overall with an ERA of 5.67, and his first-inning figure is almost identical. Cleveland is tossing Xzavion Curry, who has earned a 4.10 ERA, but his opening frame performances over his eight starts have been brutal, earning him an ERA of 7.88.