With the trade deadline coming up, it’s time for teams to self-determine whether they’re contenders or pretenders, and this Sunday’s 15-game schedule includes some matchups that will be pivotal in that pursuit. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 7/23/2023 and make some predictions.
San Diego Padres vs. Detroit Tigers NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Joe Musgrove (9-2, 3.16 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Faedo (1-4, 6.98 ERA)
The value here comes down to being extremely confident that one half of the inning will pan out, and believing that the other half at least has a decent shot. The bottom of the first is the half that should be a lock, as it will feature one of the hottest pitchers in the sport going up against one of the least-productive lineups out there. That arm is Joe Musgrove, who has shaken off a rough start to the season and been sensational throughout June and July. He’s having an even more excellent year when you look underneath the hood, as he’s maxing out the statcast numbers in just about every category other than velocity.
He’ll be going up against Alex Faedo, whose numbers have been skewed by his two most recent starts, which came just before and after an IL stint. His last outing was a rough one, but he could be more comfortable after having had a chance to shake off the rust, and Toronto didn’t even start scoring until the third inning when the top of the lineup came up a second time. Yes, this half of the inning is the one you might need to sweat out a bit, but I’m willing to absorb a bit of risk in a situation where I believe that Faedo can succeed, in order to capitalize on the value of Musgrove taking on the Tigers’ lineup.
Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers NRFI (+105)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Bryce Elder (7-2, 3.31 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teherán (2-4, 4.01 ERA)
Yes, betting against the Braves lineup can be a tough proposition, but with plus-odds on an NRFI situation with two great arms taking the mound, the value is too good to ignore. Elder, a first-time All Star was right in the thick of the NL Cy Young discussion before a pair of tough starts over the past few weeks, but make no mistake- he is one of the game’s true rising stars, and has every ability to limit a Brewers offense that ranks just 24th in the league in runs scored per game.
Elder will be going up against someone who can only be described as his elder, Julio Teherán, who is in his 12th season in the Big Leagues. This isn’t quite his best season, but after missing all of last year, almost all of 2021, and struggling mightily in 2020, this is unquestionably a major bounce-back season for the veteran righty. Very relevantly for our purposes, he’s been an absolute stud in the first inning, allowing just one run through 9 appearances. Overall, he’s come on strong and faded down the stretch, which is a concern for Milwaukee, but absolutely not for us as we look for NRFI opportunities.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Seattle Mariners YRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Bryan Woo (1-2, 4.74 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Manoah (2-8, 6.18 ERA)
With near-even odds for a YRFI featuring two solid lineups, and two pitchers who are having a rough time, most notably in the first inning, this is a can’t miss bet. Alek Manoah’s shocking 2023 struggles have been very well-documented, including some absolute shellackings at the MLB level and even one in Single-A ball. He had a nice first start back from the minors, but got hit a good bit in his last outing. As rough as things have been for him overall, they’ve been the worst in the first inning, where he’s tossing an ERA over 10.
He’s competing against Bryan Woo, who is technically still graded as a prospect. Woo is definitely a promising young talent, as we can see by digging into his underlying metricsta, a lot of what he’s doing at the age of 23 is really impressive. Still, he’s struggling to put it all together as he’s certainly allowing runs and, like Manoah, he’s allowing more in the first (6.75 ERA over 8 starts) than any other inning.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight a few honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox YRFI (-125)
Similarly, but opposite, to the Padres/Tigers bet we discussed at the beginning of this article, this one centers around one half of the inning, the bottom half to be exact. That is when the Red Sox offense, fifth-best in the league by runs per game, will be at the plate. They’ll be going up against Carlos Carrasco, who has unfortunately struggled mightily in year 3 in New York, which is also his age-36 campaign. On the Boston side, they’re tossing out Brennan Bernardino, who has been really solid so far, but almost entirely out of the bullpen. He could get hit a bit by a Mets lineup that, dare I say, has been getting a little bit hot.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Texas Rangers YRFI (-145)
This one was kept out of the main body of the article by slightly depressed odds, but it’s one of my favorite situations to bet YRFI this weekend. Both of the starting pitchers, youngster Emmet Sheehan for LA and veteran lefty Martín Pérez for the Rangers, are throwing an ERA up around 5.00 this season, and both have struggled early in games, especially Sheehan. The offenses have also been excellent, the top two in baseball by runs per game, in fact, and both are top-10 in first-inning production; the -145 number may not be gorgeous, but this one should absolutely hit.