This Sunday is the last MLB gameday before the All Star Game, with a packed 14-game slate to send us into the break. There’s lots of value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props, so let’s take a look at the odds for some of the key matchups on 7/9/2023 and make some best bets and predictions.
Atlanta Braves vs. Tampa Bay Rays NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Bryce Elder (7-1, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.24 ERA)
Let’s start with a true case of an unstoppable force against an immovable object- really two cases of that clash, one in each half of the inning. Both starting pitchers are excellent arms, in particular Atlanta’s Elder. Despite his name, he’s a second-year starter at age 24, making it all the more impressive that he has the best ERA in the NL. He’s even better in the first inning with an insane figure of 1.06, so he’s a great NRFI candidate.
He’s going up against the crafty Zach Eflin, who has a bit more experience and isn’t throwing quite as well this season, but is also a great first-inning arm with an ERA of 2.81 in the opening frame. The other side of the coin, the unstoppable forces, so to speak, would be the offenses these pitchers will attempt to subdue. They’re some of the best in the league overall, and in the first inning specifically, Atlanta is the best group in the league while Tampa is sixth.
It’s a tough call, but I have to trust these pitchers. They’ve shut down a number of great lineups this year, and as guys who rely on pitch variation and control rather than velocity, they’re a real handful for lineups the first time around. I definitely believe in them to each sit down 3 batters before a run is scored.
New York Mets vs. San Diego Padres NRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Max Scherzer (8-2, 4.03 ERA) vs. RHP Joe Musgrove (7-2, 3.56 ERA)
This is another really interesting one, but not because both halves of the inning are equally well-fought; rather it’s because the top half feels like a lock, and the bottom feels like it could be a bit more tenuous. Starting at the top, that’s the Mets lineup, the worst first-inning offense in the league, against San Diego’s Joe Musgrove. After becoming an All Star for the first time in 2022, Musgrove hasn’t been quite as sharp this year but is enjoying a third strong season in San Diego, and has been particularly strong in the first inning with an ERA of 2.77.
Conversely, the Padres have a top five first-inning offense, which is not a surprise with the elite lineup-topping trio of Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, and Manny Machado. They’ll be squaring off against Max Scherzer, who is not having nearly his best campaign, and also hasn’t quite dominated the first inning. That being said, I still very much believe in Mad Max, one of the all-time greats. He’s lost some velocity but is still a great pitcher in terms of metrics regarding spin, control, and quality of contact. He’s been a bit unlucky, and could provide you with some excellent NRFI value this weekend.
Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros NRFI (-125)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Logan Gilbert (6-5, 3.82 ERA) vs. RHP Brandon Bielak (4-4, 3.81 ERA)
At a glance, this looks like a solid matchup between strong starters that should not yield any first inning runs. To an extent, that’s exactly the case. Gilbert and Bielak are both wrapping up a pretty solid first half, and Bielak has done a really nice job handling the first few innings of games. He should be absolutely fine against a Mariners lineup that has been nothing special overall, and especially in the first inning, where they’ve been pretty squarely below-average.
In the other half of the inning, however, things start to look a bit different. Firstly, the Astros offense, while not particularly dominant overall, is one of the league’s best in the first inning. And Logan Gilbert, who as I mentioned is having a good year, has not had a good time at all in the first inning. I’m still going to put my trust in him though, and not without reason. Most of his other metrics look cleaner than his ERA, his WHIP is just over 1, and he does a great job of forcing chases without walking batters. His last start was also by far his best of the season, his first scoreless outing, and a complete-game shutout. I think he’ll stay hot for at least three more outs, and get out of the first unscathed.
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
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Arizona Diamondbacks YRFI (-135)
Arizona, one of this year’s big surprises so far, is a top-5 offense in the first inning, and they’ll be going up against rookie Carmen Mlodzinski. He’s been great so far, but has only thrown 10.1 innings, and this will be his first-ever MLB start. Conversely, the Pirates’ first inning offense is nothing too special, but Arizona is trotting out Zach Davies, who has had a tough time overall (6.52 ERA) and gets particularly abused in the first inning (7.20 ERA).
Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Guardians NRFI (-115)
Ryan Yarbrough is not having an incredible season, but when used as an opener he’s done really well in the first inning- no such runs allowed in three outings. Shane Bieber also hasn’t really been anywhere near his Cy Young-caliber best self, but is also tossing a 2.00 ERA in the first frame. Toss in two offenses that don’t kill the ball, to say the least, and we’ve got a good situation for a NRFI wager.