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For most of the season, the Mets have been the worst team in baseball at scoring runs in the first inning. While they’ve been a little better at that lately, they are still a solid NRFI bet. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks are middle of the pack and haven’t been all that potent during this series against some of New York’s young starters. With Kodai Senga and Merrill Kelly on the mound in Thursday’s series finale, both teams are likely to struggle early in a matinee.
Granted, Senga hasn’t always been reliable in the first inning this year, posting a 4.50 ERA in the opening inning. However, that ERA is somewhat inflated by some poor first innings early in the season. He’s been better during the second half of the season at settling in quicker, especially at home. Senga has managed to throw a scoreless inning in four of his last six starts. He also allowed just one run over eight innings when he faced Arizona earlier this season, so he could have his way with the D’Backs yet again.
On the other hand, Kelly is close to a lock to pitch a scoreless first inning, owning a 3.46 ERA in the first inning this year. Conventional wisdom says that he’ll be in good shape against the worst team in baseball at scoring runs in the first inning. Plus, Kelly has allowed one run or less in three of his last four outings, so he’s been outstanding lately outside of one dreadful start against the Dodgers in late August. In his last 10 starts, Kelly has only allowed a first-inning run three times, so the odds are in his favor.
For two teams with a lot of offensive talent, the Rangers and Blue Jays aren’t as good at scoring runs early in games as you might think. Toronto has the third-fewest first-inning runs in the majors while Texas is barely in the top 10 despite a lineup that’s packed with all-stars. The Blue Jays are also the second-best team in baseball at hitting NRFI, doing so 60% of the time. Considering the pitching matchup between Nathan Eovaldi and Kevin Gausman, both lineups should stay quiet in the opening inning.
To be fair, Eovaldi is making just his third appearance since going on the IL with a forearm strain. His first start back was a disaster, although he looked better last time out despite lasting just 2.1 scoreless innings. He may not be able to go more than three or four innings on Thursday, but that shouldn’t stop him from having a strong first inning. Eovaldi owns a 3.00 ERA in the first inning this year, which should bode well against a Toronto lineup that struggles in the first inning.
Meanwhile, Gausman has been trending upward over his last few starts and now has a 3.28 ERA on the season. While he has a 5.46 ERA in the first inning this year, that’s not indicative of how he’s pitched lately. Plus, most of his problems in the first inning came early in the year. Gausman has been locked in lately, throwing a scoreless first inning in six of his last seven starts during August and September. Even against a tough Texas lineup, he should be able to keep it going and get through the first inning without any damage on Thursday.
Thursday’s game is the first of a four-game series between the Rays and Orioles that could decide the AL East with Baltimore holding a two-game lead. Both teams will be eager to get off to a fast start and score early runs in the opener. However, both the Rays and Orioles are among the top 10 teams in baseball at hitting NRFI. With an outstanding pitching matchup between Aaron Civale and Kyle Bradish, first-inning runs in this game are unlikely.
Civale has a 2.96 ERA and has become a huge asset for Tampa’s rotation since coming over at the trade deadline. He’s also looked sharp out of the gate this year, pitching to a 2.25 ERA in the first inning, not to mention a 0.90 ERA in the second inning. The caveat is that the Mariners got to Civale for three runs in the first inning of his last start. But that game is more the exception than the rule for Civale. Since joining the Rays, he’s thrown a scoreless first inning in five of his seven starts. Going back even further, he’s allowed runs in the first inning just twice in his last 15 starts.
Somehow, Bradish has been even better in the opening inning this year. In his 26 starts in 2023, he has a 1.04 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP. Opposing hitters are batting just .119 against him in the first inning, making him one of the most dominant first-inning pitchers in baseball. Of course, he also ranks fifth among starters in ERA at 3.03, which explains why the Orioles have won his last seven starts. In fact, Bradish hasn’t conceded a run in the first inning since early June, covering 15 straight starts. No matter how good either lineup is, both Civale and Bradish have been close to untouchable in the first inning this year.
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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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