With the playoff picture coming into focus, every game is vital for some teams, and even for those out of the race, players have to make good final impressions ahead of the offseason, so the stakes are high all around. With 9 games this Thursday, let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 9/14/2023 and make some predictions.
Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets NRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Merrill Kelly (11-6, 3.16 ERA) vs. RHP Kodai Senga (10-7, 3.07 ERA)
Let’s kick off an absolutely loaded slate of starting pitchers with a pair of arms who are both improving as the season goes on. One is Arizona’s Merrill Kelly, who has earned an ERA of 1.42 across two September starts, after consecutive months in the low to mid 3’s. He’s also been pretty sharp in the first inning with a 3.46 ERA that’s slightly worse than his overall figure, but soundly better than average nonetheless. The bar isn’t too high for him anyways; he’s going up against a Mets lineup that incredibly ranks dead last in the league in first inning scoring, so he should be able to get the first three outs with no issue.
Kelly’s counterpart is Kodai Senga, the rookie sensation from Japan who has really settled in and taken the league by storm of late with his signature ghost fork pitch. He’s also gotten better as the season has progressed, following up an April with an ERA over 4.00 with a sub-3 figure in May, and most recently, totals of 1.93 and 3.16 in July and August, and 2.08 through his first couple of September outings. He crushes second and third hitters, and should do well against an Arizona first inning offense that isn’t as dismal as the Mets’, but is trending down after a hot start.
Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays NRFI (-115)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (11-4, 2.90 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (11-8, 3.28 ERA)
As we move down the docket, we arrive at another absolutely stellar starting pitching matchup, this time between two guys who have shown that they can do it with multiple clubs. Let’s start by looking at Toronto’s Kevin Gausman, who has kept his ERA in the low-3’s in Toronto after a breakout year with the Giants. Even more impressive is that he led the AL in FIP last year, and is on pace to do the same this year. He also tops in the AL strikeouts, both total and per 9 innings, and last year, he had the best strikeout to walk ratio. Simply put, he’s outstanding, and we can overlook some first-inning struggles, as he did not exhibit that trend last season and performs well against the top of the lineup.
In case you were wondering who led the AL in FIP before Gausman came over to dominate the category, you don’t have to go far- it’s Nathan Eovaldi, Gausman’s opponent this Thursday. Eovaldi had that AL-best total on the Red Sox, but he’s a Ranger now, and is putting up another solid season with a sub-3 ERA and a WHIP below 1.100. He’s done well in the first inning, earning a 3.00 ERA in those frames, and should absolutely shred a Jays offense that ranks 27th in first-inning scoring.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Baltimore Orioles NRFI (-110)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Bradish (11-6, 3.03 ERA)
You may notice that there’s no “obligatory” YRFI in this edition of our first inning series, but that’s because there are simply too many exciting ace matchups to cover, so we need to take advantage and invest in the arm talent that’s on display. This matchup is a particularly enticing one, as it features two rivals locked in a thrilling race for the division crown, the type of game that rarely sees scoring early or often. That’s especially the case when both teams are throwing excellent arms, which is certainly the case here. Tampa’s Aaron Civale has faltered just a bit since coming over from Cleveland, but been excellent this year with a 2.25 ERA across 20 first innings.
He’s going up against one of the quiet heroes of this season, Baltimore ace Kyle Bradish, who is experiencing a true breakout in year 2 in the majors with an ERA barely above 3.00 and WHIP and FIP to dispel the notion that it’s in any way due to luck. Bradish has been particularly outstanding in the first inning, where he’s earned a sparkling 1.04 ERA across 26 outings. He’s held batters to a batting average of .119 in opening frames, and an OPS of just .344. Tampa’s offense is solid in the first inning, but is trending the wrong way, and Bradish’s track record speaks for itself- he should be fine.
San Francisco Giants vs. Colorado Rockies NRFI (-105)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Logan Webb (10-12, 3.40 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (0-5, 6.49 ERA)
In a slate full of veritable battles of aces, this one might look just a little bit out of place, but it’s here for good reason. On one hand, Webb absolutely belongs, as he’s proven himself by throwing an ERA of 3.12 over the past three seasons, and taking on a league-high workload this season. As you might expect with so much mileage on his arm, he struggles in later innings but he’s solid in the first with a mark of 3.90. He handles the top of the lineup well, especially hitters in the third spot, who he limits to an OPS of .456.
Then there’s Anderson, whose winless record and elevated ERA stick out, but his troubles have been late in games as well. He’s tossed an impressive 2.57 ERA in first innings, followed by 5.14 in the second inning, 7.90 in the third, and a staggering 16.36 in the fourth. Toss in a Rockies offense that’s somehow worse at Coors field and a Giants lineup that ranks 25th in first inning production, and you have a great situation for a scoreless first.