What We've Learned About Each MLB Team at the One-Quarter Mark
Preseason predictions are so six weeks ago.
With roughly 25 percent of the MLB regular season now in the books, it's time to take a step back and figure out something we've learned from each team.
Players and teams alike are on historic paces—both good and bad.
Will they keep it up and wind up in a record book?
Who's the current favorite to win the World Series?
Why in the world is Dusty Baker still batting Zack Cozart second?
Where possible, we'll answer all of those questions and more.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com. Stats up to date through games on May 11.
Arizona: Paul Goldschmidt Is Really, Really Good
Paul Goldschmidt is batting .306 with nine home runs and four stolen bases.
No one else in the league can boast those numbers. Actually, no one is all that close to him. He's the only person batting at least .290 with at least eight home runs and at least three stolen bases.
This isn't breaking news to Diamondbacks fans or his fantasy owners, but Goldschmidt is quickly evolving into one of the better hitters in the game.
He's a pretty darn good fielding first baseman as well.
At the age of 25, the only real complaint about him is that he's probably going to strike out once per game. You can live with that, given everything else he brings to the table.
Atlanta: "Upton" Is Olde English for "Streaky Hitter"
B.J. Upton has always been a streaky hitter. With a career batting average of .252 and strikeouts in nearly 30 percent of his at-bats, there are streaks where he can't hit water in the ocean. However, he's been known to go on hot streaks. Just last season he had seven home runs at the All-Star break, but he finished the season with 28 after hitting seven in August and 12 in September.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, B.J. has spent the entire first six weeks of the season in one of those streaks that makes you wonder if he might be injured and just isn't telling anyone. He's batting just .157 with a metric ton of strikeouts and just three home runs and three stolen bases.
Justin Upton had always been the more consistent brother. Even in his two best home run seasons, he was routinely hitting around five home runs each month and more or less maintaining a batting average of .300.
2013 has been a whole different story for Justin. He had 12 home runs by April 27 but hasn't hit one since. After finishing April with an OPS of 1.136, he's batting just .219 with an OPS of .678 in May.
When both Uptons are on hot streaks, the Braves will start averaging close to 10 runs per game. There's no telling if or when those events will simultaneously occur, though.
Baltimore: Brian Roberts Is Still Made of Paper Mache and Egg Shells
At the start of the 27th inning of the season, things were looking great.
Brian Roberts had hits in five of his first 12 at-bats and had just stolen second base in the 9th inning of a game that the Orioles were leading by four runs.
At this stage in his career, Roberts should have known better than to test the baseball gods like that. He injured his hamstring on the play and hasn't gotten back into a game since. In fact, it was just announced a few days ago that he's having surgery on the hamstring and will be out at least another six weeks.
This is nothing new for Roberts. Coming into this season he had missed 371 games over the previous three seasons. Since the start of the 2010 season, Roberts has played in just 22.5 percent of Baltimore's games—a percentage that's clearly only going to get worse over the next six weeks.
The 22-15 Orioles are surviving just fine without him, but they could certainly use their starting second baseman back in the fold. Without Roberts, they've been forced to rely on a combination of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla—a combination that has failed to bat .200 thus far this season
Boston: K/9 Is a Beautiful Thing
The Boston Red Sox have the most strikeouts in baseball.
They are striking out better than one batter per inning.
Whether they're using sunscreen, spit, pine tar or some other form of doctoring baseballs, it's working. (It's quite possible that greasy fingers from fried chicken would fall into the "other" category.)
The starters have been solid, with Ryan Dempster, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey each averaging at least one strikeout per inning.
It's the bullpen that's particularly padding the stats, though. Between Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, the primary relievers of the Red Sox have a K/9 of 13.4, having compiled 79 punch outs in 53 innings of work. Perhaps just as impressive, they've allowed a total of 16 walks, generating a collective K/BB ratio of 4.94.
With that kind of dominance in the late innings, it's no wonder the Red Sox are near the top of the AL East.
Chicago (NL): The Cubs Have a Surprisingly Good Starting Rotation
With a team winning percentage of .389, no one could blame you for assuming that the Cubs' starting rotation is helping lead them to the bottom 25 percent of the league in team ERA for a third consecutive season.
You would be wrong.
Edwin Jackson's start to the season has certainly been forgettable, but the other four guys have opened the season fairly dominantly.
Travis Wood is seven for seven in quality starts with a 2.33 ERA. Jeff Samardzija's ERA isn't quite as good as it should be for an ace, but he does have a K/9 of 10.5. Rounding out the rotation, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva have performed admirably in their first season with a new team, combining for eight quality starts and an ERA of 2.88.
Chicago (AL): Can't Hit the Broad Side of a Barn
The White Sox have the fewest hits in the league.
Alex Rios leads the regular hitters with a .280 batting average, but it doesn't nearly make up for the .169 that Adam Dunn, Tyler Flowers and Jeff Keppinger are collectively batting.
They're also last in the league in walks drawn, averaging just 2.26 free passes per game. All in all, it has led to a team on-base percentage of .278 and last place in the AL Central.
This really came out of nowhere, too, because the White Sox were seventh in the league in scoring just a season ago.
Cincinnati: Dusty Baker Doesn't Care About Your Advanced Metrics
In short, the idea is that the second batter in the lineup gets the most at-bats in some of the most crucial situations. I would argue that managers should just set their lineups in descending order of on-base percentage, since you want to give the most at-bats to the guys most likely to get on base.
Whatever your theory, there's absolutely no excuse for Dusty Baker to continually bat Zack Cozart in between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.
Cozart is barely batting .200 and has only drawn seven walks on the season. Not only is Joey Votto not being optimized, but he's being victimized by batting behind Cozart. Votto is tied with Choo for the team lead in hits but only has 15 RBI because of how infrequently the man in front of him gets on base.
The Reds are doing quite well and actually lead the NL in runs scored despite the Cozart conundrum, but one has to assume they'd be doing even better if they buried his bat somewhere lower in the lineup.
Cleveland: Mark Reynolds Can Still Mash a Baseball
Mark Reynolds is right near the top of the leaderboard in home runs with 11 of them.
He has always had a good amount of power, averaging better than one home run for every 20 at-bats in the past five seasons. However, his current rate of one home run every 10.5 at-bats is a bit absurd.
Also personally unsustainable is a .284 batting average for a guy who hasn't even hit .222 in any of the past three seasons. The career strikeout rate of 32.4 percent is a bit concerning as well, but you take your lumps with Reynolds because of his ability to hit home runs like he has to start the year.
Colorado: Wilin Rosario Was Not a One-Year Wonder
Wilin Rosario spent the bulk of the 2012 season in a platoon situation with Ramon Hernandez.
In less than 400 at-bats, Rosario racked up 28 home runs while batting .270. The home runs were good for most among all catchers last season, and the batting average makes you wonder why they continually gave at-bats to a guy who ended up hitting just .217 last year.
He has responded by hitting seven home runs already in 2013 and ranking second among fantasy catchers.
Detroit: Easily the Favorite to Win the World Series
Behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Tigers' pitchers rank fourth in ERA and second in strikeouts.
We're talking about the best team in the league playing in what will arguably be the least competitive division by the end of the season. That's a recipe for World Series favoritism if I've ever seen one.
Houston: Jose Altuve Is a Special Talent
The amazing thing about Jose Altuve's .336 batting average is that he's doing it in one of the least fearsome lineups in all of baseball.
Miguel Cabrera is hitting very well in part because opposing pitchers can't avoid him and pitch to Torii Hunter and Prince Fielder.
There is absolutely nothing protecting Altuve in Houston. Last Thursday, Altuve went 3-for-5 with a stolen base while batting in between right fielder Jimmy Paredes and designated hitter J.D. Martinez—a designated hitter that the Astros eventually pinch hit for in the seventh inning.
Put Altuve in a legitimate lineup and he could do even more damage than he's done to this point in his career.
Kansas City: Finally Ready to Fulfill Lofty Expectations
Without fail, there's a contingent of contrarian columnists every preseason that warns you not to sleep on the Kansas City Royals. Maybe they were just looking for some attention or maybe they actually were that disillusioned. Either way, their predictions were wildly off base as the Royals finished near the bottom of the division year after painful year.
This year might finally be different.
The Royals went out and acquired virtually their entire starting rotation from other teams in the past 12 months. James Shields and Wade Davis came over in the Wil Myers trade, they traded for Ervin Santana at the end of last season and traded for Jeremy Guthrie in the middle of the 2012 campaign.
Three of those four pieces have been absolutely masterful in helping the Royals jump out to an 18-13 record. You have to assume they won't beat out the Tigers in the AL Central, but perhaps they could snag a wild-card berth and get back to the playoffs for the first time in almost 30 years.
Los Angeles (AL): It's Hard to Win When You Can't Pitch
When the Angels signed Josh Hamilton this offseason, people started handing the AL Pennant to them on a silver platter. How could anyone possibly contend with a 2-6 of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick?
So the Zack Greinke signing never happened and the starting rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson is a mishmash of guys that other teams didn't want anymore? Big deal. They'll just have to beat teams by a score of 12-8 instead of 12-4.
Well, the bats haven't shown up yet. And after losing Weaver for two months just two starts into the season, a pitching staff anchored by Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton has performed about as well as you might expect.
They're eight games under .500, but the season is still young. Mike Trout has really been heating up over the past two weeks and you would hope Pujols and Hamilton will soon be following suit. Whether they can get back into the playoff picture will depend on that pitching staff, though.
The weird thing about the Angels' staff is that they held Detroit to four runs over three games back in mid-April—right after giving up eight runs in back-to-back games against the Twins. There's no rhyme or reason to when they're going to show up. The return of Weaver in a few weeks should help right the ship.
Los Angeles (NL): It's Not Easy to Buy a World Series Ring
Every time a "Dream Team" comes along and fails to even make the playoffs, I gain a little more respect for the New York Yankees.
People have always hated the Yankees because of their unfair advantage of a seemingly unlimited payroll. However, the Dodgers have the highest payroll in the National League and are nearly in dead last in the standings.
Sure, it's early in the season. Zack Greinke has missed about a month with a broken collarbone. Josh Beckett can't do anything right on the mound and Matt Kemp is still figuring things out at the plate. Hanley Ramirez has played all of four games and there's no telling when he'll be back. Brandon League is almost indisputably the worst full-time closer in the majors.
Time can help heal wounds, but no amount of money is going to fix those problems. Sometimes you just have to wonder whether these dream teams are cursed for trying to buy a championship.
Miami: They Are Who We Thought They Were
It's hard to say we've learned anything from or about the Marlins other than that you tend to play pretty poorly when you trade away four of the five most important pieces from a 93-loss team and get practically nothing in return.
The 2013 Marlins are dead last in runs scored (averaging 2.8 per game), dead last in batting average and dead last in slugging percentage. The slugging percentage is so bad that if maintained for the entire season, it would be among the worst in MLB history.
Their current slugging percentage of .321 makes them the fourth-worst "power hitting" team since the pitching mounds were lowered in 1969. If we shorten the range to "since 1980," the Marlins are currently in the lead for worst slugging percentage of the past 33 years.
I don't know if that's more impressive or nauseating.
The pitching has actually shown some promise. Kevin Slowey was out of the league last season, but has a lower WHIP and ERA than in any other season in his career. Jose Fernandez is only 20 years old, but he already has three quality starts and a K/9 of 9.5.
Unfortunately, it's hard to win games without any semblance of an offensive attack.
Milwaukee: Yuniesky Betancourt Ate a Lot of Wheaties This Offseason
Yuniesky Betancourt has never hit more than 16 home runs in a season, but he's on pace for 37 this year.
It's one thing to play the "on pace game" a couple of weeks into the season—like when Justin Upton was on pace for 100 home runs and Mike Napoli was on pace for 213 RBI—but we're getting into some legitimate sample sizes now.
Betancourt has already hit eight home runs. To match his career best he would merely need to duplicate that feat over a portion of the season that's nearly four times as long as the portion in which he's already accomplished it.
Where did this power suddenly come from?
You can't even really argue that he's seeing the ball better than he used to. Both his batting average and BABIP are considerably lower than his career totals. Even his strikeout rate is a bit higher than usual. However, his ISO is way above the average he established in his first eight seasons in the majors.
In summary, he's hitting the ball slightly less often than he used to, but when he does hit it, it's going much farther. It has to be the Wheaties he started eating when the Phillies cut him during Spring Training.
Minnesota: K/9 Isn't Everything
Despite a winning record, the Minnesota Twins are dead last in the league in K/9, and they've got a ways to go to catch the Padres for 29th place.
To say their starters have been pitching to contact is an understatement. Vance Worley has the highest K/9 among the starting rotation with a shockingly low 4.85. The next-lowest team leader in K/9 is Arizona's Wade Miley at 7.12.
What they lack in strikeouts, they make up for by not giving up walks. With a BB/9 of 2.39, the Twins are just a hair behind the Seattle Mariners for best rate in the league. As a result, they're right in the middle of the pack in K/BB, which is arguably much more important than K/9.
Unfortunately, they have a team BABIP of .318, so maybe pitching to contact isn't the best idea for them. Should that luck factor start to work more in their favor while the K/BB ratio stays roughly the same, don't be surprised to see the Twins hanging around in the AL Central into the latter months of the season.
New York (AL): Age Is Only a Number
Vernon Wells is 34 years old.
Travis Hafner is 35.
Lyle Overbay is 36.
Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Ichiro Suzuki is 39.
Andy Pettitte is 40.
Mariano Rivera is 43.
Each guy is playing a massive role for a team that's 10 games over .500.
Sure, they've got a handful of old fogies on the disabled list eating up close to $100 million of the team payroll, but it's pretty amazing how healthy the rest of the team has remained, isn't it? Since the start of the season, Kevin Youkilis is their only person over the age of 27 to have gone on the disabled list.
Considering the number of innings logged by all those guys in their late 30s and beyond, that's pretty impressive.
New York (NL): Matt Harvey Might Be the Best Pitcher in Baseball
As little as one month ago, no one outside of New York and fantasy circles had heard much about Matt Harvey.
In his "The MLB Weekend Top 10" segment, Grantland's Shane Ryan didn't even mention Matt Harvey, choosing instead to focus on the potentially dominant one-two punch of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez against the Mets. In retrospect it seems like an egregious oversight, but it kind of made sense at the time.
During the game at Citi Field, Mets fans started chanting "Harvey's better" when it was clear on that particular night that he was the more dominant pitcher. It was kind of laughable at the time, but not anymore. Harvey legitimately might be a better pitcher than Strasburg.
He legitimately might be the best pitcher in the game today.
Bleacher Report's Jason Catania went all sorts of next level on the matchup between the two phenoms, comparing each of their careers through 13 starts and finding both similarities and differences.
In that article, Catania called out Harvey's unsustainably low .228 BABIP through that point in his career. At the moment, Harvey has the lowest BABIP in the majors in 2013 with a .189. The lowest BABIP that any pitcher has had in any of the past 10 seasons was Jeremy Hellickson's .223 in 2011.
To some extent, there's some regression coming, but after nearly hurling a perfect game against the White Sox last week, he's officially on everyone's radar.
Oakland: Great Bullpen of Guys You've Never Heard of
Oakland has five relievers who have made at least 14 appearances and have an ERA of 3.00 or better. Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Pat Neshek all fit the bill.
No other team can boast more than three such relievers.
It's a good thing they have those guys or they'd be in a lot of trouble. The lowest ERA among the starting pitchers is Tommy Milone's 3.71, so despite the great work in the bullpen, they rank 25th in team ERA and are currently a game under .500.
Philadelphia: The Old Infielders Can Still Play
Let's just go around the diamond and take a look at these aging veterans.
Ryan Howard is 33 years old. He has started 36 of a possible 39 games (34 at first base, two at DH) with a .250 batting average. He started the season cold but has hit five home runs since April 24. At that pace of five home runs for every 18 games, he would hit 45 home runs while striking out close to 200 times—also known as a typical Ryan Howard stat line.
Jimmy Rollins is 34 years old. He has started 37 of a possible 39 games at shortstop while batting .248 with a pair of home runs and four stolen bases. Since I nominated him as a star officially entering his decline years, he's batting .385 with a home run and a stolen base.
Chase Utley is 35 years old. He has started 37 of a possible 39 games at second base, batting .289 with seven home runs and four stolen bases. He's on pace for 29 home runs, 100 RBI and 17 stolen bases—a stat line that only Ryan Braun and Chase Headley can claim to have matched or beaten in 2012.
Michael Young is 36 years old. He has started 35 of a possible 39 games at third base with a .305 batting average. Young has already drawn 17 walks this season and has a higher on-base percentage than in any other season in his career.
Even with an infield at full health, the Phillies are three games under .500 thanks to a slow start from Cole Hamels and that injured shoulder of Roy Halladay.
Pittsburgh: Not Too Shabby When More Than One Guy Is Performing
Andrew McCutchen had an impressive year in 2012. He led the Pirates in literally every offensive category except for triples. In most of the categories, the second-best finisher wasn't even close behind him.
Unfortunately, McCutchen struggled a bit over the final 10 weeks of the season, and the Pirates went from 16 games over .500 on August 1 to four games under .500 on October 3.
However, they now have a second Andrew McCutchen to take the pressure off of the first one.
Starling Marte is batting .329 and is on pace for 22 home runs and 44 stolen bases. McCutchen has gotten off to a decent start and is on pace for some much-better-than-league-average numbers of his own, but Marte has been phenomenal and is every bit as responsible for the Pirates 21-16 record as McCutchen is.
It should be interesting to see how the Pirates hold up throughout the season when they can rely on more than just McCutchen to shoulder the load. Maybe they'll actually finish above .500 for the first time in over two decades.
San Diego: Edinson Volquez Will Never Figure This Pitching Thing out Again
2008 was an incredible year for Edinson Volquez.
At the All-Star Break, he had a 12-3 record and a 2.29 ERA with 126 strikeouts. He finished the season with a 3.21 ERA, more than 200 strikeouts and a WAR of 3.9.
That's when everything went downhill.
He made nine starts in 2009 before being shut down for Tommy John surgery. In those nine starts, he had a 4.35 ERA and a K/BB of 1.47.
Before he could make his comeback in 2010, he was slapped with a 50-game suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He came back to make 12 sort of effective starts, going 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA and a WHIP of 1.50.
2011 was his first fully healthy season since the surgery, and expectations were high that he would regain his 2008 form. He failed miserably, posting a 5.71 ERA and spending the first two months after the All-Star Break in the minor leagues.
Having worn out his welcome in Cincinnati, he was traded to San Diego where many of us foolishly believed pitching in Petco Park would help solve all of his woes. He did have the second-best WAR of career, but 1.1 wins above replacement is hardly worth writing home about. His K/BB rate was the sixth-worst in the majors, and his 4.14 ERA hardly left much to be desired.
Here we are again in 2013, watching him struggle to find the strike zone (K/BB of 1.20) while compiling an ERA of 5.15.
He'll be a free agent after this season. Unless he really turns things around in the next four months, it's tough to imagine anyone will take a chance on him again.
San Francisco: Hunter Pence Might Be in the Best Shape of His Career
With seven home runs and seven stolen bases, Hunter Pence is on pace for 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
He's the only person in the Major Leagues with seven of each, making him the only player currently projected to join the 30 HR / 30 SB club this season.
Not Matt Kemp. Not Mike Trout. Not Andrew McCutchen. Not Ryan Braun.
You get the idea.
Never in his career has he hit more than 25 home runs nor stolen more than 18 bases, so I'm more than a little skeptical about him maintaining this pace. However, who's to say he isn't just now playing the best baseball of his career?
It's long been believed that batters are at their peak in the season that they turn 28 years old.
Perhaps 30 is the new 28.
Seattle: The Best One-Two Pitching Punch Resides in Seattle
If there was an end-of-season award called the "Dynamic Duo" (alliteratively sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts, of course), the front-runners for that award today would be Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
The two Mariners have combined for a 1.63 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 8.73 K/9 and 6.7 K/BB in 110.1 IP. Each guy has a quality start in seven of his eight games this season—with the White Sox and Astros bizarrely being responsible for the two non-quality starts.
It's a shame the rest of the rotation has just eight quality starts combined.
The 1948 Atlanta Braves had a poem that was eventually condensed to "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." The idea behind the poem was that if neither of the best pitchers was pitching, the Braves might as well hope the game doesn't even get played.
Perhaps the Mariners could revive that sentiment, although nothing much rhymes with Iwakuma or Hernandez. 'Kuma and King then cancelling?
St. Louis: It's Possible to Win Rookie of the Year After Just Six Weeks
Shelby Miller has been incredible.
I had him pegged as the front-runner for the NL ROY award three weeks ago.
Since then, he's merely had an ERA of 1.32 in four starts with a K/9 of 10.9, including that near no-hitter against the Rockies on Friday.
The only concerns with giving him the award right now are that teammate Lance Lynn was just as good at this point last season, and Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn't exactly been a slouch in his rookie campaign with the Dodgers.
Still, Shelby Miller has reached the point of needing to be watched any time he steps on the mound. There are maybe half a dozen other guys who I would say that about, and none of them are as young as Miller.
Tampa Bay: Starting Pitchers Grow on Trees in Tampa Bay
When the Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis for Wil Myers and a few other prospects this past offseason, it felt like a definitive salary dump before a rebuilding year.
Little did we know they were just clearing out space for Matt Moore and Alex Cobb to become staples at the top of the rotation.
After spending most of April with bats so anemic that everyone was screaming for the call-up of Myers, the Rays have scored 6.6 runs per game in the month of May. If they can keep that up and get Price back to pitching like his normal self, the Rays could be headed back to the postseason once again.
If only the Astros and Marlins could go through rebuilding years like these.
Texas: Derek Holland Is Every Bit as Valuable as Yu Darvish
Please don't confuse "valuable" with "good." I like Derek Holland, I think he's a solid pitcher, but I'm not that crazy.
In six of his seven starts this season, Holland has gone at least seven innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs to score. Take out that hiccup against the Angels on April 22 and Holland has a 1.64 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 6.0.
He doesn't have the jaw-dropping strikeout numbers that Darvish has, but he does have a better ERA and a higher percentage of quality starts in 2013. With Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm starting to struggle in May after impressive starts to the season, the Rangers need someone other than Darvish to show up on a regular basis if they're going to remain atop the AL West.
Derek Holland seems prepared to be that guy.
Toronto: Seriously, It's Not Easy to Buy a World Series Ring
I know I've already used that shtick on the Dodgers, but it's worth repeating for the Blue Jays.
When Miami traded essentially its entire roster to Toronto last November, the Blue Jays instantly became the team to beat in the American League. However, the pitching staff (outside of Casey Janssen's unbelievable numbers as a closer) has been horrendous.
Once considered the favorites to win the AL East, Toronto is the most beatable team in the division.
How did it all go so wrong so fast? Is this just karma for being on the receiving end of highway robbery this past offseason?
R.A. Dickey's knuckleball isn't fooling anyone. Neither is anything Mark Buehrle throws. Josh Johnson was abysmal before going on the disabled list, and Toronto's attempts at replacing him have been even worse. J.P. Arecibia has a historically bad strikeout rate. Rajai Davis, of all people, is the only healthy Blue Jay regular batting better than .270.
Jose Bautista is starting to turn a corner at the plate, but he can't bring this team back from the dead all by himself.
Washington: Jordan Zimmermann Is the True Ace of the Staff
Jordan Zimmermann has been much better than you realize.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Zimmermann has the third-best ERA of all starting pitchers.
Not third-best in the Nationals' rotation (though, the Nats do have four of the top 16 guys on the list), third-best in the entire league. The other guys rounding out the top four are Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.
It might be time to start including him in the same breath with those names, not to mention considering him a better pitcher than Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez.
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