The regular season is over, but that doesn’t mean the end of our NRFI fun; just a new format. With just four games taking place this Tuesday, the first day of the Wild Card Round, we’re coming at you with a first-inning run scoring pick for every single contest on the board. For the first time this postseason, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 10/3/2023 and make some predictions.
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-132)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Jordan Montgomery (10-11, 3.20 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow (10-7, 3.53 ERA)
The very first game of the 2023 MLB postseason will feature a strong pitching matchup and most likely, no runs in the first inning. The two pitchers work very different styles; Glasnow is a hard-throwing righty who leans on strikeouts and whiffs while surrendering isolated hard contact, while the crafty lefty Montgomery works to limit walks and rely on poorly-hit balls in play. The two offenses are also pretty different; the Rangers started the year off hot, but slipped quite a bit. They ended up losing the AL West title, and their first-inning offense slipped down to around league-average. The Rays also came on strong this year and tapered in terms of team results as they too blew the division race, but their first inning offense has stayed relatively steady.
One similarity in this matchup is that both pitchers work a great first inning. Montgomery has been excellent since coming over to Texas from the Cardinals and overall, earned an ERA of 2.81 in those frames. He will provide a great lefty counter to Corey Seager, who has hit at an MVP level this season but has had a definite platoon split. Glasnow has struggled a bit with getting deep into games as he recovers from injury, but has absolutely rocked the first inning with a 2.14 ERA over 21 starts. Between these two arms, there’s plenty of pitching talent to go around, and they should get those first three outs without much trouble.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Minnesota Twins YRFI (+110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16 ERA) vs. RHP Pablo López (11-8, 3.66 ERA)
You’d think this would be a NRFI based on the Blue Jays’ dismal first inning offense, but they don’t suffer too much of a road dip. Paired with a solid enough Twins first inning offense, we’re in a position to grab some plus-odds value on this wager, which is a better bet than you might think in a postseason opener where both teams are throwing a solid starting pitcher. You’re getting good value since the starting pitchers each have a good track record overall, but in the first inning, it’s a different story.
Toronto’s Gausman is an old school arm who gets you out with control and precision, racking up strikeouts without a flaming fastball. In the first inning, however, he’s been a total pumpkin with a 5.23 ERA as he struggles to settle in. He’s going up against Minnesota’s Pablo López, who has had a solid year as well, as it’s his fourth straight campaign with a sub-4.00 ERA, but like Montgomery, he has struggled in the first inning to the tune of a 4.78 ERA. With some sneaky-shaky pitching in this first frame, let’s grab the “underdog” YRFI for a fun plus-odds bet.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers YRFI (+100)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 ERA) vs. RHP Corbin Burnes (10-8, 3.39 ERA)
Once again, we’re snagging some solid value here at even money, presumably due to the Cy Young reputation of Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes, which of course is a well-earned for this year’s NL leader in WHIP. But in the first inning, his performance has not been up to par, especially compared to his own lofty standards. Normally a soft-contact maestro, Burnes has struggled to settle into games as he’s earned a 4.22 ERA in opening frames, a far cry from his overall figures.
He’s going up against Brandon Pfaadt, a rookie whose first few starts were a total disaster, but he’s leveled out a good bit in the recent months. That being said, Pfaadt’s rebound has been a bit overstated; he’s had a solid rookie campaign to be sure, but he’s earned an ERA over 4.00 every month, culminating with a 4.32 in September, as hitters batted .289 against him last month and slugged over .500. Pfaadt is a promising youngster, but in his playoff debut, there are sure to be some jitters, and he may not be up to October quality just yet. With a top 10 first inning offense on both sides, let’s grab that YRFI at just +100 odds.
Miami Marlins vs. Philadelphia Phillies NRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers:LHP Jesús Luzardo (10-9, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Wheeler (13-9, 3.61ERA)
When I took a look at this slate, I immediately thought YRFI when I saw this game, but in fact, it ended up being one of my favorite NRFI picks in a good while. I’ve never been a huge Zack Wheeler believer, but he’s started out strong this year with a 2.81 ERA in first innings. Similarly, Luzardo has built on a nice, if shortened 2022 with some great work this season, highlighted by a 2.25 ERA in 32 first innings, and his case is improved further in this particular case by the fact that he’s a left hander.
The Phillies offense is good in the first inning and has an incredibly high ceiling overall, but not without two of its iconic lefty sluggers. Kyle Schwarber is an unconventional leadoff hitter, but he finished second in the majors with 47 hours and ended with a respectable OBP. Bryce Harper requires no introduction; the two-time MVP helped lead Philly to a surprise pennant with an unbelievable 2022 postseason. That all being said, both have a significant platoon split against fellow southpaws, especially Schwarber. If those two bats are diminished, it’s hard to imagine Philly doing much in the first inning, and we’re not going to bet on Miami’s 24th-ranked first inning offense to contribute against Wheeler.