With 20 teams in action and the trade deadline looming as close as it can possibly be, Monday’s 10-game slate could be full of last showings with their current clubs for many star players. Let’s go find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 7/31/2023 and make some predictions.
Reds vs. Cubs NRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: LHP Andrew Abbott (6-2, 1.90 ERA) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (10-7, 3.51 ERA)
All of a sudden, this is one of the most fascinating matchups of the season thus far. The Cubs looked like surefire sellers for most of the season, but a recent surge (8 wins in their last 10 games) has them right back in the playoff picture. They’re just 3.5 games away from a Wild Card spot, and 4 away from none other than the Reds for first place in the NL Central.
One of the most likely players to be dealt if the Cubs chose to sell at the deadline was Marcus Stroman, who is coming off of a pair of rough starts but was tossing a sub-3.00 ERA for the season before that. Even after those outings, he has an ERA of 1.64 in the first inning, making him a great investment here, in what no longer seems like his last start for the club.
He’s throwing against Cincy’s rookie lefty Andrew Abbott, who has earned a remarkable 1.90 ERA and sub-1.000 WHIP through 10 career starts. This could be a true pitcher’s duel, in one of the biggest spots of the year, in baseball’s most iconic venue- I literally can’t imagine anything better for a Monday night in late July.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Atlanta Braves YRFI (-130)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Griffin Canning (6-4, 4.46 ERA) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (10-8, 3.57 ERA)
This is one of those YRFI bets that comes down to a very strong inclination that runs will happen in one specific half of the inning. Griffin Canning has not had a strong year overall, and his first inning ERA, which is in the dangerous territory of over 5.00, isn’t any prettier. He’s also facing the top first inning offense in the league, by a mile and a half, might I add.
The Braves are averaging 1.06 runs in the first inning, way ahead of the Dodgers with 0.79 in second place. To top it all off, the top of the lineup for them features the NL OPS leader and MVP frontrunner, Ronald Acuna, as well as the senior circuit’s home run leader, Matt Olson, who has hit 35 long balls thus far.
That being said, it would not be particularly shocking for LA to get on the board as well. Morton is having a nice year, but his 4.05 ERA is a bit worse than his overall mark. The Angels also don’t have Atlanta’s outrageous first inning output, but they do have Shohei Ohtani, who will hit in the first inning and can create a run all by himself, as he leads the whole league with 39 homers.
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Corbin Burnes (9-6, 3.46 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Irvin (3-5, 4.96 ERA)
This is a great spot to grab nearly-even odds, with a great pitcher on the bump against a mediocre offense in one half of the inning. That would be the bottom half, as Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes is having another really nice campaign. He’s tossing the best WHIP amongst National League qualifiers with a figure of 1.045, and the former Cy Young winner has allowed just 6.4 hits per 9 innings, also the best number in the NL. He’s going up against a Nationals lineup that has actually been solid in the first inning, but is bottom-10 overall in terms of runs scored per 9.
Opposing Burnes is Jake Irvin, who is not having an awesome season with an ERA approaching 5.00, but has been quietly good in the first inning. It seems that he runs out of steam and lineups figure him out, doing much of their damage in the later frames. Irvin’s first inning ERA is 3.60, outside of the territory of “lights-out” but a far more respectable mark than his overall number. Against Milwaukee’s lineup, 24th in runs scored per game, he stands a great chance of getting those first three outs before surrendering a run.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks, let’s highlight a couple of honorable mentions in the fascinating AL East race that could provide you with some good value
Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees NRFI (-120)
The return of Aaron Judge tosses a bit of a wrench into this equation, but the Bronx Bombers offense has still been extremely rough over the past month or so. They’re going up against Tyler Glasnow, who is slinging an ERA of 2.30 in July, and 3.27 across first innings this season. Domingo German hasn’t been as sharp but is going up against a Tampa offense that has had way worse first innings on the road (.56 runs on average) as compared to at home (.70), and could be motivated to perform right before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays YRFI (-125)
In another matchup that will impact the high-flying race for the AL East division crown, we should be more likely to see some early scoring. Baltimore’s Kyle Gibson has had a tough year overall, with a 4.68 ERA overall and a slightly worse number in first innings. He’s squaring off against Chris Bassitt, who has been fine across the board this year, but is saddled with a horrendous 6.95 ERA in the first inning. With two pitchers who tend to struggle early, this is a good spot to grab the -125 odds and look for a run.