As summer winds down, every game is important with teams looking to extend their season deep into the fall. With 12 games this Sunday, there’s plenty of high-stakes action going on across the MLB. Let’s find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/20/2023 and make some predictions.
Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Guardians NRFI (-128)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Eduardo Rodríguez (8-6, 3.13 ERA) vs. LHP Logan Allen (6-5, 3.33 ERA)
Let’s kick things off with an absolute classic- betting on a hard-fought AL Central battle to stay under. This matchup is like many in the American League’s Midwest-based division; headlined by strong starting pitchers, and subpar offenses. For the Tigers, that pitcher is Eduardo Rodríguez, whose 3.13 ERA puts him on track for his career-best by a wide margin. He’s made it clear that he wants to be a Tiger by using his no-trade clause to reject a move to the Dodgers, and has made good on his commitment, as he has thrown extremely well.
He’s going up against rookie Logan Allen, who like many young Cleveland arms before him, has gotten his MLB career off to a great start. He’s struggled a bit with baserunners and doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, but has shown lots of poise en route to earning a low-3’s ERA, something to be truly proud of in a debut big league season. Neither of these guys is necessarily a first inning specialist, but neither are the offenses; Cleveland and Detroit rank 23rd and 25th in the category, respectively. It’s not quite a “battle of aces,” but it’s not too far off, and both arms should be able to limit the stagnant opposing offenses.
Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros YRFI (-128)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Emerson Hancock (0-0, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Hunter Brown (9-8, 4.16 ERA)
After a low-scoring affair in this weekend series’ first game on Friday night, these two offenses dialed it up for 13 runs on Saturday, although it’s worth noting that Seattle did the vast majority of that damage. I’m projecting a repeat of game 2 rather than game 1, with neither team throwing a pitcher I have much confidence in. Houston’s Hunter Brown has been rough lately, giving up multiple earned runs in each of his past seven starts, including three outings with four or more allowed.
Seattle’s starter will be starting 24 year old Emerson Hancock, who is exactly two appearances into his MLB career. His debut went very well, but his more recent one was a tough outing so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Regardless of those first two games, it’s very much expected for young arms to experience some bumps along the road as they adjust to facing MLB-caliber hitters; it’s not wise to put too much trust into a pitcher this early in his tenure.
It’s also quite relevant that Houston has the league’s third-best first inning offense, by virtue of a very talented top of the lineup, while Seattle is just about league-average, but interestingly enough is much stronger on the road. With both teams getting hot at the right time, this one has all the makings of a game with some early scoring.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cincinnati Reds NRFI (+104)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Hyun-jin Ryu (1-1, 2.57 ERA) vs. RHP Hunter Greene (2-4, 3.91 ERA)
There are definitely some strong bats in this one, but there’s enough pitching talent to keep me on the NRFI side of things, and there’s some interesting offensive trends that also lend themselves to betting on a scoreless first. Let’s start with the latter; the Blue Jays, who most would consider an offense-first squad, are just about league average in per-game scoring, and are a shocking 29th in first inning offense. Cincinnati ranks far better in both categories, but it’s worth noting that they do score more runs on the road.
Then there’s the starting pitchers, who have very different profiles from one another, but both should be able to get through the first three outs before yielding a run. Cincy’s young flamethrower Hunter Greene has been a bit shaky at times this year, but has also been an absolute first inning maestro, allowing just one opening frame run across 14 appearances.
Toronto’s veteran lefty Ryu has only thrown three games so far after a return from injury, but has been sharp across those opportunities. His traditional stats like ERA and WHIP are in great shape, while his underlying advanced metrics support the notion that he’s thrown well so far, rather than benefiting from good luck.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight some honorable mentions that could also provide you with some value
Chicago White Sox vs. Colorado Rockies NRFI (+124)
This one is the biggest plus-money wager of the ticket we’re building, as we’re putting some trust in starting pitchers who are having rough seasons in Chicago’s Dylan Cease and Colorado’s Chris Flexen. That being said, neither offense is great in the first inning, with Chicago all the way down in 26th and Colorado around the middle of the league. The Sox are also lifeless on the road, while the Rockies are somehow worse at home. And lastly, as tough as things have been for these guys overall, they’ve been solid in the first inning, especially Cease with a 2.52 ERA in the opening frame.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Minnesota Twins YRFI (-138)
Conversely, this is the most chalky bet of the article, but it’s truly a must-have with a completely washed Dallas Kuechel on the bump for Pittsburgh, going up against a very solid Minnesota offense. He’s only two outings into the season, but his most recent start was an absolute shellacking by the Phillies, and while he’s had less than 10 games played each year, he hasn’t had an ERA below 7.88 since 2021, when he earned a 5.28 total, not too great either. As for Twins rookie Osvaldo Bido, he’s struggled as well; he doesn’t strike out too many guys, and allows a high xBA.