In the six games between the Brewers and Cubs this season, things have been tense. The Brewers have hit six Cubs batters with pitches in the six games they’ve played so far this season. Three of those have hit Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who has been upset about being hit so much. One of those hit him in the head. This has led to a benches-clearing incident, which Contreras was fined $7,500 for inciting. On Tuesday, it ramped up more as Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera threw a pitch behind Brandon Woodruff. After reviewing that play, Tepera has received a three-game suspension from MLB for intentionally throwing behind Woodruff. Tepera which appeal the suspension. In addition, Cubs manager David Ross and Cubs associate coach Mike Borzello also received one-game suspensions each. Since they cannot appeal, they will serve those suspensions tonight.
Manager David Ross spoke about the suspensions, saying he is confused why his team is getting punished for this:
“This is a ball that got pulled down around a guy’s [Woodruff’s] calf,” Ross said. “We’re talking about a middle-of-the-order bat, for us, that got hit in the head, hit in the hand and up around his face. Since I’ve been here we lead the league in getting hit, and it’s not even close, and we’ve never intentionally retaliated.”
MLB’s stance on the suspension is that since the throw at Woodruff was intentional, the suspensions are warranted. However, the pitches that hit Contreras were not intentional, so no suspension was issued. The Cubs have even admitted that those pitches were not intentional, and are arguing more about a suspension for a pitch that didn’t hit a batter. It’s a fair argument by the Cubs, but MLB is focusing on the intent over the result.
Looking at the stats for this season, Cubs batters have been hit by pitches nine times, which is tied for second most in the league. However, the league lead is ten, which is a tie between the White Sox, Rangers, and Brewers. The Brewers have been hit by one more pitch as a team this season than the Cubs. In fact, it’s an even split between the two teams so far this season in hit by pitches in their games. The Brewers have been hit six times, and the Cubs have been hit six times.
Going back a few seasons, the Cubs have generally been hit more often overall. In 2020, they led the league with being hit 52 times. In 2019, they were fourth at 83. They have tended to be near the top of the league in recent years. The most recent year they were not in the top 5 in the league in batters hit by pitches is 2014 (they were 16th that year).
To be fair, Contreras understands that it’s part of the game. In an article by Jordan Bastian and Adam McCalvy, he spoke about his frustrations:
“That’s number seven in the last 13 or 14 games,” Contreras said. “And I know that a lot of those hit-by-pitches are not intentional. I’ve been talking a lot to [Omar] Narváez, their catcher. We are really good friends. We’re really close. And I told him, ‘I know you guys are not trying to hit me, but bro, that’s something that frustrates any player. And I’m trying to take care of myself.’
“I was trying to send a message last series at home. And then I got fined.”
In that same article, Craig Counsell backed up how his team pitches to Contreras, arguing that their strategy for pitching to him is statistically the most effective:
The Brewers say they must pitch Contreras inside, even though he crowds the plate and has been known to lean in on occasion. The numbers back that up, showing Contreras’ weakest damage up and in, and his hot zones on the outer part of the plate.
“We’re trying to go inside there and we’re kind of missing spots a little bit,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He is on the plate, so there’s a little less room for error there, is what I’d say. But we’re going to continue to pitch inside. We have to be able to do that.”
The Brewers and Cubs have one more series this month, which is a three-game series in Chicago starting on Friday, April 23. The two teams then don’t play again until June 28. If tensions stay high between the teams entering that series, it could be another emotionally charged series that will have importance for the division.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs