With the trade deadline wrapped up and the playoff push officially on, this Tuesday’s 15-game schedule includes some matchups that could prove to be very important. Let’s find some value in No Run First Inning (NRFI) and Yes Run First Inning (YRFI) props in the games on 8/1/2023 and make some predictions.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Ben Lively (4-6, 3.76 ERA) vs. LHP Justin Steele (11-3, 2.87 ERA)
After the Cubs decided to become buyers rather than sellers at this year’s deadline, hanging onto their stars and bringing in Washington’s Jeimer Candelario, this game is an absolutely fascinating installment in a suddenly-real NL Central race. Cincy’s starter Ben Lively is having a nice resurgent year after going to Korea and eventually returning to the minors, before working his way back to the big leagues. He had a really nice July with an ERA of 3.00, and will get to face the fourth-worst first inning offense in the majors.
In the other half of the inning, breakout performer Justin Steele takes the mound for the Cubs. An old-school lefty, Steele isn’t a hard thrower, strikeout artist, or spin monster, but he has been excellent this year as his pinpoint control allows him to reduce walks and limit quality of contact. Steele’s first inning numbers are in line with his great overall track record, if not a bit better; with two hot arms ready to go in a big spot, we could be in for a scoreless first frame at Wrigley.
Cleveland Guardians vs. Houston Astros NRFI (-120)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Gavin Williams (1-2, 3.35 ERA) vs. LHP Framber Valdez (8-7, 3.29 ERA)
As solid as this pitching matchup looks on the surface, it gets even better if you dig into the numbers just a bit. Williams, who made his pro debut after a midseason call-up, was hit pretty hard in that initial start, but has a 2.81 ERA in 6 starts since then. When it comes to first-inning performance, he has allowed just one run in his 7 outings thus far. The young righty throws hard and limits solid contact at a high level, there’s every reason in the World to believe in his talent and write off that tough first start as an adjustment period.
Then there’s Valdez, who most fans will be more familiar with. He’s had a rough July, but otherwise is having another strong season, and has been particularly good at home with a 2.74 ERA. Perhaps even more impressively, he’s earned a ridiculous first inning ERA of 0.90 across 20 outings thus far. Paired with a Houston offense that is closer to league-average than usual and a Cleveland lineup that ranks in the bottom-10 by most metrics, this pitching matchup provides us with an awesome spot to bet on a scoreless first.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants NRFI (-140)
Starting Pitchers: RHP Zac Gallen (11-5, 3.36 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (6-3, 2.97 ERA)
As the NL West and Wild Card races continue to heat up, let’s dig into a matchup between two teams that are still in it, but have definitely cooled down of late. This is especially true of Arizona, who have won 2 of their last games and have fallen out of the playoff field entirely. The good news is that they’re throwing Zac Gallen on Tuesday, he’s in the thick of the NL Cy Young conversation amidst another great year. Gallen has been particularly sharp in the first inning, where he’s tossing an ERA of 1.64.
He’s going up against Alex Cobb, who is having an even better year in some ways, albeit in somewhat limited time. Cobb is wrapping up a great July, and will face an Arizona offense that had been great in the first inning for much of the season, but has been trending down as of late, as has the team as a whole. San Francisco’s first-inning offense has been mediocre throughout the year, another factor that gives me a lot of confidence that these two talented arms can both get through three outs before surrendering a run.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at my favorite picks of the day, let’s highlight a few honorable mentions that could provide you with some good value
Boston Red Sox vs. Seattle Mariners NRFI (-135)
In a matchup between two first inning offenses that are pretty much league-average, I’m going to put my faith in two young, promising pitchers. Seattle’s Bryce Miller, a rookie, is having a great first campaign with his WHIP sitting right at 1.000. He’s been particularly excellent in the first inning, with an ERA of 1.93 in the opening frame. Bello has definitely been inconsistent at times, but his talent is enormous, and he has largely settled in after being briefly sent down to the minors. Both righties and both 24 years old, these guys have a great future ahead, and should contribute to a nice pitcher’s duel on Tuesday.
Oakland A’s vs. Los Angeles Dodgers YRFI
It took all the way until the second honorable mention, but we have reached the obligatory YRFI of this article. This proposition is pretty simple; invest in the Dodgers, one of the best first inning offenses in the league, and fade the A’s, one of the worst teams at…everything. LA is especially solid opening games at home, averaging just under a run per first inning at Dodger Stadium. Ken Waldichuk, Oakland’s starter, is tossing an ERA over 6.00, as is Lance Lynn, one of the weirder “buyer” acquisitions I’ve ever seen at a trade deadline. Safe to say that the hitters have the early advantage in this one.