This is it folks- the regular season is coming to a close, as we’ve officially reached the final weekend. There’s never been more at stake this season as some teams make their last push for October, while others who have clinched are already gearing up for a big run. For one last time this regular season, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/30/2023 and make some predictions.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays NRFI (-105)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Shawn Armstrong (1-0, 1.41 ERA) vs. LHP Hyun-jin Ryu (3-3, 3.31 ERA)
While the Rays have officially lost the division title race to the Baltimore Orioles, and are officially locked into the top Wild Card in the American League, the Blue Jays are still in a fight to keep playing through October; they lead the sixth-seeded Houston Astros by just one game, and the Seattle Mariners by one more. The Rays should be all about resting up and getting ready to finally make a World Series push, so we can probably expect a lineup that looks slightly different than usual, with starters getting a day off. The Blue Jays will still be trying their very hardest of course, but even though that’s the case, they have the 29th-best first inning offense in the league, so even with all of their starters in they’re not too imposing.
They’ll be facing Shawn Armstrong, a journeyman righty who has thrown well in his second stint as a Ray. He’s appeared in 38 games and worked an ERA of 1.41, but just five of those games have been starts. That being said, in those five starts, he did not allow a single first inning run, so he’s definitely made a habit of starting strong, a trend that should continue against this lethargic Blue Jays lineup. He’s going up against veteran Hyun-jin Ryu, who has thrown well overall this year but has had some struggles in the first inning. He has dominated leadoff and third hitters, but has struggled mightily with the second position in the lineup, so we’ll have to see who the Rays even trot out to face him in that spot.
San Diego Padres vs. Chicago White Sox NRFI (-115)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Michael Wacha (13-4, 3.39 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (9-8, 3.40 ERA)
Unfortunately, at a certain point of the season, we run into matchups between two teams who have nothing left to play for. The Chicago White Sox have been in that group for quite some time and after being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs despite a late surge, so are the San Diego Padres, making their matchup on the South Side of Chicago an event with somewhat diminished luster. The Padres had been playing much better of late, as they’ve won eight of their last 10 games, but it was the definition of too little too late.
After an offseason of famously planning World Series parades, the club will no doubt feel deflated and possibly be resting starters to simply coast into the offseason. The White Sox may as well play their best players, since they’ve been on cruise control for months, but regardless, they have the league’s 23rd-best first inning offense, so there’s not much of a threat anyway.
Both teams will be throwing solid starters who will likely be looking for a positive final outing to end the year on a high note. They may not be pushed too far into this one, but for our purposes that’s fine; they just need to start strong and get through those first three outs each without giving up a run. The Padres will be throwing Michael Wacha, who has had a really nice season with the club, and his first inning numbers essentially match his overall ERA in the mid-3’s. It’s been essentially the same story for Mike Clevinger, who has been a bright spot for a dismal Sox team; good overall numbers, and very similar production in the first inning. This should be a low-energy contest, and the starting pitchers will have no problem cruising through the first frame.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite pair of picks, let’s highlight a few honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
Cincinnati Reds vs. St. Louis Cardinals YRFI (-125)
In another matchup between two teams whose seasons are effectively over, there’s still a lot of pride on the line between these two long-standing rivals. Both sides are throwing rookie arms who have struggled; Connor Phillips with an ERA of 5.66, and Drew Rom with an even worse figure of 7.98. Both lineups should be motivated to end the season on a high note, and get the scoring going early and often.
Houston Astros vs. Arizona Diamondbacks NRFI (-105)
Conversely, the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks are each locked in very competitive playoff battles on the West Coast. The Astros are a game back of the Texas Rangers for the AL West crown, but also just a game ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the league’s last playoff spot, so every pitch matters tremendously. The Diamondbacks should be fine in the NL, but they won’t want to take any chances, and with staff ace Merrill Kelly on the hill against the legendary Justin Verlander, the first six outs could go quite quickly in this one.
Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles YRFI (+105)
The Red Sox have struggled with starting pitching all season long, and not a single member of their rotation has an ERA below 4.00. Kutter Crawford is no exception, as he’s struggled quite a bit this season, as has Baltimore’s Kyle Gibson, especially lately. With a Red Sox lineup looking to play spoiler, and the Orioles hopefully over their Division Championship hangover, this one could be absolutely full of scoring, and it should start right off the bat.