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Theo Epstein says Cubs vetted Manny Ramirez and his PED past


SAN DIEGO — The Cubs are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing Manny Ramirez failed two drug tests and once seemingly burned all his bridges with the Boston Red Sox.

Who else could give Red Sox Nation two World Series titles and still leave Fenway Park as the villain?

The Manny Being Manny act got so old that Theo Epstein traded Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2008 deadline as part of a three-way deal, getting rid of the clubhouse headache responsible for shoving the traveling secretary and fighting Kevin Youkilis.

The Cubs president of baseball operations believes his new player/coach at Triple-A Iowa has changed, coming clean to Major League Baseball and wanting to give back to the game. It’s part of the risk/reward system with a hitting genius, a no-doubt Hall of Famer if it wasn’t for the PED past.

“You never know in this world, but I think there’s potential high impact here,” Epstein said Sunday on a conference call. “If he can just influence one player, make them a little bit calmer in the box, give them a little bit better mental approach to hitting, teach him something about how to approach the right-handed breaking ball the right way. If he can convince one player not to do PEDs, if he can influence one player in the right way and the positive way, then it was worthwhile.”

[MORE: Cubs shock baseball world, sign Manny Ramirez as player/coach]

Ramirez twice violated the drug policy, though Epstein indicated the 12-time All Star cooperated with MLB officials, a factor that helped convince the Cubs to give him another chance.

“My understanding from afar is that players handle it in different ways. They’re sort of upfront about what’s happened or they can find excuses,” Epstein said. “We’ve obviously vetted the PED issue thoroughly, because it’s an important issue and it was a mistake that he made. All accounts were that he was extremely accountable, extremely cooperative, handled it with a lot of maturity. He was impressive in how he handled the whole thing after the fact and wanted to help.

“The signing was blessed by those people (who dealt with him). You take the time to talk to people who’ve been around Manny the last two years in particular, you find people who describe a mature, accountable person who wants to make up for mistakes in his past.”

If not, the Cubs won’t hesitate to end this experiment.

“Yeah, he’s going to be around some of our better prospects, that’s important, but it’s relatively low-risk as well,” Epstein said. “It’s something that if it doesn’t go well, we can terminate. But I think it will go well, and I think we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.