Despite some surprising results on day one of the Wild Card Series, we still stayed perfect on our picks in the first postseason installment of this series. With four more games taking place on Wednesday, day two of the Wild Card Round, we are once again making a first-inning run scoring pick for each and every matchup on the board. With elimination games already on tap, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 10/4/2023 and make some predictions.
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Eflin (16-8, 3.50 ERA)
Despite these lineups both being loaded, we picked and hit the NRFI in game one, and we’re going to shoot for the same outcome today. Texas’s Nathan Eovaldi has put together a pretty nice year, and has been pretty effective in the first inning with a 3.24 ERA, so he’s positioned fairly well to compete with a strong Tampa lineup.
The other half of the inning is where we should feel really great, as Tampa’s Zach Eflin’s overall numbers, which are quite solid, don’t quite do justice to how great he’s been this year. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly for our purposes, he’s racked up an ERA of 2.03 in the first inning. He’s also been an absolute wizard at controlling his pitches and batters’ reactions, as he’s 99th percentile for walk rate https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/zach-eflin-621107?stats=statcast-r-pitching-mlb
, and 95th for chase rate, so he hasn’t given up many free baserunners, which is reflected in his FIP of 3.01 and his WHIP of 1.024. Against a Rangers lineup that has a ton of talent but has slid a ton in terms of their ranking amongst the league’s first inning offenses, the Rays should feel great about Eflin’s chances to record those first three outs without surrendering a run.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Minnesota Twins NRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP José Berríos (11-12, 3.65 ERA) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.79 ERA)
They’ve done it! The Minnesota Twins got off to a hot start in the first inning on Tuesday through rookie Royce Lewis, and used that momentum to secure their first postseason win in almost 20 years. This time, however, the Blue Jays are throwing a pitcher who does not significantly underperform in the first, as José Berríos has put up an ERA of 3.94 in opening frames, pretty similar to his overall figure. Berríos limits walks and hard hits very well, leaving hitters with few opportunities to do damage.
He’s going up against Sonny Gray, who has been absolutely fantastic for Minnesota this year. Gray finished third in the majors behind just Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole with an ERA of 2.79, as offense spiked across the league. He’s been especially ridiculous in the first inning, where he’s tossed an ERA of 0.84. Yes, you read that right; his 32 starts have yielded three first inning runs, and Toronto’s 29th-ranked first inning offense is not going to be the one to add to that tally. With Gray on the bump, Minneosota should be looking at a scoreless first and beyond, and their long-awaited win could very well turn into a win streak.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers NRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Zac Gallen (17-9, 3.47 ERA) vs. RHP Freddy Peralta (12-10, 3.86 ERA)
With two offenses that finished in the top 10, this is a slightly risky NRFI spot, but these two arms have the ability to reward our investment. The Diamondbacks threw rookie Brandon Pfaadt in game one, and while they won, it didn’t exactly “work out” per se; Pfaadt surrendered three runs in the first two innings, spotting Milwaukee a key lead. This time, things should be different with staff ace Zac Gallen taking the mound.
He earned a 3.18 ERA in the first inning, and basically does not walk anybody. His Kryptonite of sorts is hard contact, but seeing as the Brewers are 25th in slugging percentage, he should be just fine. In a situation where yesterday’s starter went just 2.2 innings and the bullpen needs to be protected, Gallen will rise to the occasion and give a quality start.
His Milwaukee counterpart will be Freddy Peralta, in the wake of an injury to Brandon Woodruff. Peralta hasn’t been in the same category of lights-out as Gallen, as reflected by both his overall numbers and his first inning ERA of 3.60. Nevertheless, he’s been an above-average arm by basically all measures, especially in terms of forcing whiffs and strikeouts, and should be able to get through the first inning unscathed.
Miami Marlins vs. Philadelphia Phillies NRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Braxton Garrett (9-7, 3.66 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.46 ERA)
Yes, we’re picking an entire slate of NRFIs- it’s playoff baseball, and a full crop of elimination games at that. Once again, I thought that this matchup might buck the trend, but the pedestrian Miami first inning offense was again a factor that got in my way. They’ll be facing Aaron Nola, a pitcher I don’t necessarily believe in and had a rough yet, but his first inning numbers are fine as he earned a 3.66 ERA in those situations.
Miami’s Braxton Garrett has also been good in the first with an ERA of 3.00, but that’s possibly not the most important piece of the equation here. Like Jesús Luzardo in game one, Garrett is a lefty, which ended up being a key factor; Kyle Schwarber got on base, but Bryce Harper struck out in an absolutely key spot to secure the NRFI. Garrett also does an outstanding job limiting walks, which can be another thing that gets a pitcher into some early trouble. The Phillies should have the firepower to secure the sweep against a very poor Miami bullpen, but the offensive display won’t start in the first inning.