This weekend was absolutely packed with action as teams across the league played pivotal games in a handful of thrilling playoff races. Monday brings us a 10-game slate as weekday series get started, and with some questionable starting pitching options set to throw, we could be in for a lot of runs. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/4/23 and make some predictions.
San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs NRFI (+100)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Logan Webb (9-11, 3.49 ERA) vs. LHP Justin Steele (15-3, 2.69 ERA)
Let’s kick things off with an unbelievable value, as we have the opportunity to bet on two of the NL’s best arms at even odds. This Labor Day clash in the Windy City will feature two fringe NL Cy Young contenders in Justin Steele, second in the majors in ERA, and Logan Webb, who is 10th in WHIP. Steele has been especially lights-out in the first inning, topping his already incredible season ERA with a mark of 1.80 in opening frames.
With the lefty Steele on the bump, the Giants might be forced to platoon key bats like LaMonte Wade Jr., Joc Pederson, and Mike Yastrzemski right out of the lineup. This would put a dent in their first-inning offense, which is already tied for just 24th in baseball. Meanwhile, the Cubs have seen their overall offense surge towards the top 5 in many categories, such as team OPS and run scoring, but their first-inning output is still only league average. With a true battle of the aces on tap without elite game-opening offenses to counteract them, the NRFI is an absolute must-hammer at even money.
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Brayan Bello (10-8, 3.57 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.64 ERA)
This one isn’t quite even money, but at -110 it’s pretty close, and still outstanding value with one legitimately elite arm and one promising youngster set to throw. Let’s start by discussing the former, Tampa’s Aaron Civale, who has been slightly cold but still extremely effective after coming over from his longtime home of Cleveland. He’s earned an incredible first-inning ERA of 1.00 on the dot, allowing just two runs across 18 appearances.
He’s going up against Brayan Bello, who has been outstanding since returning from the minors early this season. He hasn’t been quite as lights-out in the first inning, which is an area of strength for Tampa, but let’s not forget that their season average has been pulled up by a historic start to the season, from which point they’ve fallen off a good bit, and of course Wander Franco was part of the top of the order for much of the season, and he is now gone due to some deeply troubling allegations. This is less of a slam dunk than the first bet, but I do believe that the arms outweigh the bats, making this a solid NRFI play.
Seattle Mariners vs. Cincinnati Reds NRFI (+115)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Bryan Woo (2-3, 4.15 ERA) vs. RHP Tejay Antone (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
At +115 odds, this is the best value pick of the day, but definitely comes with some risk. To make this bet, you’re placing faith in Cincy’s Tejay Antone, who just recently made his triumphant return after missing about two years of play on the IL. The good news with Antone is that he has a great, if limited, track record. He’s thrown over 30 innings in two seasons, and put up sub-3.00 ERAs in both campaigns, highlighted by a very strong 2.14 across 23 relief appearances in 2021. Antone showed no signs of rust in his first game back, as he struck out a batter and gave up one hit over a scoreless inning of work.
You also have to believe in Seattle’s Bryan Woo, who has a bigger dataset behind him, but not all good. The rookie righty has put up a decent first season, with an ERA just over 4.00, but has not been excellent in first innings, or dominated the top of the lineup. The good news with Woo is that he has been extremely hot over his past three outings, with just three runs allowed across 16 innings of work. Perhaps the youngster has begun to figure it all out, and could finish the season strong, as his whole team seems to be doing. He’ll also be going up against a Cincy offense that has fallen off a good bit, and ranks just 18th in the majors in first-inning scoring.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Diego Padres YRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Taijuan Walker (14-5, 4.05 ERA) vs. LHP Rich Hill (7-13, 5.26 ERA)
While it’s definitely good to grab value, it’s also sometimes nice to see that Vegas agrees with your lean, which is definitely the case when it comes to predicting some runs in this Phillies vs. Padres clash. It’s an interesting matchup between teams who were viewed as contenders but faltered early and bounced back later, however Philly turned things around in time, but San Diego didn’t get it done, they’re playing better ball now but the playoffs are not happening for them. The offenses in this one are pretty solid in the first inning- San Diego is in fourth place on that list, while Philly sits in 12th, and both are trending in the right direction.
As for the arms, 43 year old Rich Hill has gotten hit pretty hard in year 19, and has been particularly bad since coming over to San Diego with an ERA of 8.50 across 5 outings. He’s going up against Taijuan Walker, who has been slightly more effective overall, but has been brutal in the first inning, where he has earned an ERA of 6.66. The top of the order also hits pretty well against Walker, racking up a .931 OPS. This game features two solid offenses and no pitching that comes close to being considered elite; it’s well worth taking the minus-odds to invest in this YRFI.