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First-Inning Flurry: Will Eovaldi, Champs Ambush Steele, Cubs?

Welcome to Opening Day! Thirty teams will play 162 games over the next six months, giving us a bevy of wagering options. Already two games are postponed due to weather and that’ll be a common theme for the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the sky.

Although the time of games reduced dramatically last year with pitch clocks and other alterations, many of us still want instant results. That’s why RIFI (Runs In First Inning) and First Five Innings bets are so popular. We’ll continue to feature those on the regular this year, beginning with a good old RIFI roundup to start things off.

First-Inning Flurry: Will Eovaldi, Champs Ambush Steele, Cubs?
Ezekiel Duran #20 of the Texas Rangers/John E. Moore III/Getty Images/AFP

Below are three of what we think are the best bets in MLB today.


1. Cubs vs Rangers

The defending champs open things up with an interleague slate against Chicago and new manager Craig Counsell. Nathan Eovaldi gets the nod for the Rangers less than five months after he threw six scoreless innings in the decisive Game 5 of the World Series.

Eovaldi will get a rousing ovation for both his postseason heroics and the All-Star campaign he put together in his first season with Texas. He was 12-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 25 starts, many of which he opened with strong first innings.

The 34-year-old had a strong 3.24 ERA in the first inning in 2023, holding opponents to a .715 OPS. That’s the lowest OPS against him over the first four frames. He was spot on with command early in games, too, recording 23 strikeouts and just five walks in his 25 first innings.

Eovaldi had a perfectly fine spring, with just one somewhat rocky outing in which he walked four Angels batters in 4⅔ innings. He finished it with four scoreless against Kansas City five days ago and cruises into an opener against a Cubs squad that was 27th in all of baseball last season in first-inning scoring percentage on the road (20.99).

Another All-Star in Justin Steele will try to keep those dangerous Texas bats down when he gets the ball in the bottom half of the frame. He enjoyed a breakout 2023 that saw him go 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA, good enough for a fifth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting.

Like Eovaldi, Steele often entered games feeling good. He posted a 2.40 first-inning ERA and a minuscule 0.90 mark in the second. Opponents hit .199 in those two frames.

Steele defeated the Rangers with six strong innings last April at Wrigley Field, one day after Eovaldi came within an out of a quality start. They’re both facing offenses that will score some runs this year, but we expect a quiet opening in Arlington.

There are plenty of MLB player props today, several involving Steele and Eovaldi.



2. Red Sox vs Mariners

As is the case with each of these picks, we’re going somewhat off of last season’s trends. Those could all be reversed this year. It’s impossible to tell. But for now, it’s one of the tools we can use to help with your MLB picks.

In the case of Boston at Seattle, we took a look at what these offenses did to begin games last year. The Red Sox had perhaps the most dramatic home/road discrepancy in the league, scoring 43.21% of the time in the first inning at home (tops in the American League) and just 20.99% on the road (13th in the AL).

Seattle, meanwhile, was in the top third in the majors in terms of runs per first inning on the road (0.58), but in the bottom third at home (0.49).

Using all those numbers, this opener on a cold, wet Seattle night figures to start slowly on the offensive end.

Brayan Bello and Luis Castillo will have plenty to do with that, too. Bello, who signed a $55 million extension in the spring, is the de facto ace of the Red Sox after winning 12 games last season. He had a few bumps in some first innings but held opponents to a .245 average and had 30 strikeouts in 28 firsts overall.

As for Castillo, he was very sharp out of the gate with a sub-3.00 ERA in both the first and second innings. He also loved pitching at home in his first full season with Seattle, going 8-5 with a 3.09 ERA at T-Mobile Park.

When surveying the MLB lines, consider all of these factors and expect some early zeroes on the board.



3. Rockies vs Diamondbacks

The defending NL champs open up at home against a Colorado team coming off its second straight last-place finish. The Diamondbacks give the ball to All-Star Zac Gallen opposite veteran Kyle Freeland for the Rockies.

Gallen is a strong no-RIFI option here. He was supremely dominant at home last season (12-3, 2.47 ERA) and quite strong in the opening frame (3.17 ERA). One of his 17 wins came with six strong innings vs the Rockies at Chase Field.

However, it’s not an absolute guarantee that he has a clean opening in this one. Opponents did hit .256 with a .680 OPS in the first inning against him, very solid numbers but also the worst he had among his first four frames. Additionally, he started quite poorly in 2023 after a rocky spring training, and he had some similar issues in the Cactus League this year (5.54 ERA, seven walks in 13 innings). Perhaps he’ll need a few starts to find his groove again.

Colorado was a middle-of-the-road first-inning offense in 2023 but strangely pretty solid on the road.

A more sure thing in terms of first-inning scoring is what the Diamondbacks might do to Freeland. He posted a 5.03 ERA last year, his highest since 2019, and had his fair share of first-inning woes. Six of the 29 home runs he allowed were in the opening frame when opponents slugged a healthy .469 against him.

In 10 career starts at Chase Field, Freeland has allowed 31 runs in 52⅔ innings. He’ll likely see Ketel Marte, Corbin Carroll, and Christian Walker in the first. Those three are hitting a combined .316 against the lefty with 14 of their 25 hits going for extra bases (six home runs).

He’ll be tested right away, and that’s why we like this bet online.



Questions Of The Day

Which other MLB matchups are worth watching on March 28?

Earlier in the day, Tyler Glasnow makes his Los Angeles Dodgers debut against the St. Louis Cardinals.

What MLB team stood out among first-inning offenses last year?

Led by Ronald Acuna Jr., the Atlanta Braves were absolutely dominant early in games in 2023. They averaged nearly a run per first (0.88).


The odds and predictions in the article are based on the time of writing and publication. They may differ as to when the actual event takes place.

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