Tim Benz: Cubs’ Joe Maddon hints at tense series vs. Pirates. Do they deserve it? | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: Cubs’ Joe Maddon hints at tense series vs. Pirates. Do they deserve it?

Tim Benz
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Christopher Horner
Home plate umpire Joe West restrains Cubs manager Joe Maddon after Maddon was ejected during the fourth inning against the Pirates Thursday, July 4, 2019, at PNC Park.

There’s a growing opinion about the Pirates across the National League.

They throw up-and-in too much. This isn’t really a new thing. That reputation has been attached to the Pirates for a while.

Going back years. There was the beanball war with Arizona in 2018. And there was one between the Pirates and Diamondbacks over Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt getting plunked in 2015.

Don’t forget the Cardinals-Pirates dust-ups dating back to the Lloyd McClendon era.

The conversation has reignited, though, after a series of incidents this year.

*The Reds and Pirates had a run-in at PNC Park on April 7 after Chris Archer threw at Derek Dietrich in the wake of Dietrich staring down one his many home runs against the Pirates this year.

*On May 29, Reds manager David Bell flat out accused the Pirates of throwing at his players when Clay Holmes hit Eugenio Suárez.

*About two weeks later, Atlanta’s Josh Donaldson lost his mind when his bloused jersey was brushed by a Joe Musgrove pitch, and another bench-clearing incident occurred.

*Then, on the Fourth of July, Cubs manager Joe Maddon “tried” to fight the whole Pirates dugout after a few up-and-in pitches from Jordan Lyles, including one that struck the nob of Javy Baez’s bat.

The catalyst seems to have been Bell’s comments about the Pirates’ intent. It can’t be a coincidence that Donaldson was so ready to react to such a minor incident so shortly after Bell’s accusation 13 days earlier.

Then Maddon went nuts without a player even officially being hit by a pitch (although David Bote did get hit in the head later in the game, after the ejection).

After the Cubs left Pittsburgh, the Brewers rolled into town. They haven’t exactly been incident-free with the Buccos over the years either. So I asked some of the Brewers for their opinions on whether the Pirates’ reputation of working high-and-tight too dangerously is warranted.

“They do give the up-and-in target a lot. Yes. Yes,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Ok. Is it given too much?

“It’s not the target that’s the problem. It’s when you can’t execute, that’s the problem,” Counsell continued. “They are setting up in the strike zone. But if you can’t execute it, the collateral damage is pretty obvious.”

Brewers All-Star Mike Moustakas was a little less damning.

“Nowadays pitchers are throwing up-and-in a lot more. It’s consistent across the board,” Moustakas said. “Four or five times this year I’ve been hit in my hands or arm area. And I’ve never been hit there before. That’s the trend across baseball going up-and-in with four-seam fastballs and down-and-away with other stuff. I don’t know if it’s just (the Pirates).

“When we were (in Pittsburgh) the last time, (Felipe) Vazquez hit me in the hands up-and-in. And he looked at me afterward and apologized. And there are no hard feelings there. That’s just how baseball is.”

It doesn’t sound as if the Pirates plan to change their mentality.

“You have to pitch inside to open up the outer half,” said Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings. “We throw in. Everybody knows that.

“I don’t know if we do it more than other teams. All of our pitchers pitch well up in the zone. But we do try to throw up-and-in for strikes.”

After his ejection, Maddon strongly hinted that retaliation might be coming as the two teams square off again to start the second half of the schedule Friday.

“They have their pitching philosophy,” Maddon said. “I appreciate inside. I don’t appreciate up-and-in. They just need to be careful. (The Pirates) are a good team. And they are good guys. Real good guys. But if (the Pirates) keep pitching like that, these guys are not going to like their pitching staff.”

In other words, since the Pirates staff went up-and-in on Cubs hitters, then the Cubs pitchers may return the favor this weekend.

When asked if he was looking forward to the reboot of the series at Wrigley Field after the All-Star break, Maddon said emphatically, “I can’t wait. I cannot wait. I cannot wait.”

The Pirates have hit 40 batters in 2019. That’s tied with the Giants and Padres for the seventh-highest total in baseball this year. The league average is 36. The other four NL Central teams are below the average.

Maybe both teams will see their totals spike by the time the series ends Sunday.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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