The regular season is over, but that doesn’t mean the end of our NRFI fun; just a slightly different format. With just three games taking place this Wednesday as the Division Series in both the American League and National League are racing towards the endgame, we’re coming at you with a first-inning run scoring pick for every single contest on the board. For the last time this season, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 10/11/2023 and make some predictions.
Braves vs. Phillies YRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.81 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.46 ERA)
This matchup between NL East rivals has been an absolute thriller through two games, as the Phillies kicked things off with an impressive 3-0 win before the Braves erased a 4-0 Philly lead in game two to bring home the win.
With the series headed back to Philly all knotted up, the home team will be tossing Aaron Nola, who had a fairly tough year as he struggled with quality of contact this season . He was also hit hard by lefties, which could be an issue if Atlanta musters a single baserunner out of the first three batters; he’d be facing lefty slugger and MLB home run leader Matt Olson in the cleanup spot, capping off baseball’s best first inning offense.
Nola had a strong first start of the postseason against Miami, but this lineup is in a totally different category. He’ll be going up against Bryce Elder, who hasn’t thrown this postseason, but faltered hard down the stretch with an ERA over 5.00 across the last three months of the regular season, a sample size of 15 starts. Going up against Philly’s seventh-ranked first inning offense is going to be a big ask for him, and it’s hard to think of a tougher spot for your postseason debut than Citizens Bank Park, especially as an Atlanta Brave; I think one or even both teams should be able to get some early runs on the board.
Astros vs. Twins NRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP José Urquidy (3-3, 5.29 ERA) vs. Joe Ryan (11-10, 4.51 ERA)
After the Twins’ game one comeback came up just short, they picked up a 6-2 win in game two to take a 1-1 split back to Minnesota, where the Astros turned in a dominant win of their own in game three to the tune of a 9-1 scoreline.
With their backs against the wall in their home ballpark, the Twins will be turning to Joe Ryan, a starter of a decidedly lower caliber than those they’ve been throwing so far this postseason. Ryan has been able to get chases and strikeouts and does not walk hitters, which is usually a recipe for success, but he gives up way too many barrels and thus surrenders 1.8 homers per nine innings of work.
He’ll be going up against José Urquidy, who also struggled through this regular season. Conversely to Ryan, he’s done a great job limiting quality of contact, but definitely not quantity; he does not force whiffs or record strikeouts, and his walk rate is fairly concerning.
Interestingly enough, both pitchers have started strong in their outings. Ryan has earned a 3.10 ERA in first innings, while Urquidy has pitched to a 2.70 figure, and continued his good work with a 1.80 mark in the second. After that point, Urquidy has struggled mightily to get length, inflating his overall numbers but in this context, that doesn’t matter to us.
Neither of these starters have thrown this postseason, so they should be absolutely fresh. There has been first inning scoring every game in this series thus far, but never by both teams- that is not sustainable. These are good offenses, but it’s not Braves vs. Rangers or anything like that; the Twins first-inning offense is almost exactly league average at 14th. The trend will stop here, and the series will see its first- and perhaps only- NRFI.
Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks YRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Lance Lynn (13-11, 5.73 ERA) vs. RHP Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 ERA)
Just like the other National League series, we’re heading to the Southwest for another divisional clash, this time in Arizona. The Diamondbacks absolutely annihilated the legendary Clayton Kershaw to the tune of six runs before he could record two outs, and jumped on Bobby Miller early in game two to score three of their four runs in the first inning. Now, they’re coming back home with a shocking 2-0 lead and two chances to close out the Dodgers in Phoenix.
The D-backs won Pfaadt’s start vs Milwaukee, but he did his best to make sure they didn’t as he threw just 2.2 innings, surrendering seven hits, and three earned runs. Expect the Dodgers to come out hot in this must-win game and give Pfaadt some tough at-bats; he allowed 10 runs in 8.2 innings of work against this team during the regular season.
Pfaadt is fine in the first inning but gets absolutely dominated by hitters in the top two spots in the order, as leadoff men put up an .893 OPS against him, while it’s even worse for the two-hole with a figure of 1.182. This is definitely not what you want to see when you’re facing a lineup that starts with Mookie Betts and then Freddie Freeman. With a third percentile barrel rate and 16th percentile hard hit rate, Pfaadt could get into trouble fast against the explosive top of the LA lineup.
He’s going up against Lance Lynn, one of the weirdest “buyer” acquisitions at any trade deadline, who has been absolutely awful. He tosses a 7.31 ERA in the first inning, and his advanced metrics aren’t any better, especially when it comes to barrels allowed. In this matchup between baseball’s second and tenth-best first inning offenses, expect the runs to come early and often against questionable starting pitching.