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We're going against the grain with this pick because these are two of the worst teams in baseball at scoring runs in the first inning. The Mets average the fewest first-inning runs in the majors while the White Sox are tied with their Chicago neighbors for the second-fewest. The White Sox also have the second-best NRFI record in baseball, hitting NRFI 57% of the time. However, Michael Kopech is a liability in the first inning while Jose Quintana is making his season debut, which makes us think there will be some early runs in Thursday’s matinee.
Overall, Kopech hasn’t had a great season. He’s just 3-8 with a 4.47 ERA. Kopech hasn’t gotten out of the fifth inning in four straight starts and had to be removed in the first inning of his last start against the Braves, allowing four runs. That outing pushed his first-inning ERA to 7.78. But even before that game, Kopech had been struggling in the first inning, hurting himself with walks. The Mets also had a five-run first inning earlier this series, so perhaps they are starting to turn around their fortunes early in the game and can take advantage of another Chicago pitcher in peril.
At the same time, the Mets aren’t sure what they’re going to get out of Quintana in his season debut. For what it’s worth, Quintana allowed just five runs in the first inning of his 32 starts in 2022. However, his rehab appearances in the minors were a little unconvincing. The lefty only pitched seven total innings over his two starts at triple-A, allowing seven runs on eight hits, so he wasn’t particularly sharp. That could lead to some first-inning trouble in his season debut, even against a sluggish White Sox lineup.
Thursday’s game between the Twins and Mariners has serious potential to become a pitcher’s duel. An afternoon game with two good pitchers always holds that possibility. With Pablo Lopez starting for Minnesota and George Kirby on the mound for Seattle, it could take a while for either team to score, which is why NRFI is a good bet in this game.
Of course, Lopez got hit hard in his first start coming out of the all-star break, giving up seven runs over 5.2 innings against Oakland. But he also didn’t get a normal all-star break, tossing a scoreless inning with two strikeouts in the Midsummer Classic. In his two starts before the break, Lopez allowed one run over six innings against the Orioles and threw a complete-game shutout against the Royals, yielding just four hits. If Lopez can shake off his last start and pick up from where he was before the break, he’s poised for a strong start on Thursday. Lopez has a respectable 4.74 ERA in the first inning of games this season, but most of his first-inning problems were earlier in the season. Lopez hasn't allowed a first-inning run since May, going eight straight starts with a scoreless inning.
Meanwhile, Kirby has had a strong season, going 8-8 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP for the lackluster Mariners. Just like Lopez, he struggled in his first start following the break after pitching in the All-Star Game. But Kirby had pitched at least six innings while giving up two earned runs or less in four of his five starts before the break. He’s also had a run of four consecutive starts with a scoreless first inning. In total, he’s allowed just four runs on 11 hits in the first inning of his 18 starts, as Kirby has started strong all season.
The Astros are something of an anomaly this season because they have scored the third-most first-inning runs in the majors this year but also have a strong NRFI record, hitting 55% of the time. Against the lowly A’s, we’re going to bank on Houston’s offense getting going early. Hogan Harris is a young pitcher who could struggle against the Astros, even if J.P. France can take care of business against the Oakland lineup in the first inning.
For the record, France is not infallible. In his 12 starts, he owns a 3.75 ERA in the first inning. While he’s gone three consecutive starts without allowing a run in the first inning, he has stubbed his toe early in games on occasion. The A’s are also coming off back-to-back wins and are feeling good about themselves, so perhaps they can get something going against the rookie.
Of course, the key to this bet is Harris struggling against the Houston lineup. He’s made four starts this season and allowed three first-inning runs. Harris also owns a 6.51 ERA on the season, pitching mostly in relief. The bottom line is that he hasn't been effective and will be vulnerable against the Astros, who have excelled at scoring early runs all season.
Bryan Zarpentine is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2010. During that time, he has contributed to countless sites while covering baseball, soccer, the NFL, college football, and college basketball.More info on Bryan Zarpentine
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