Archive for Phillies

Dodgers Add Chase Utley for Playoff Race

The Los Angeles Dodgers made another move after a very active trading deadline, trading for life-long Philadelphia Phillies’ player and icon Chase Utley. The Dodgers, attempting to hold off the San Francisco Giants for a division title are currently two games ahead of the Giants, but are also one game behind the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card standings, making the division title potentially the only real avenue to make the playoffs. The Phillies will reportedly pay $4 million of the $6 million that Utley is owed for the rest of the season and in return receive minor leaguers Darnell Sweeney and right-hander John Richy. While the players the Phillies receive are not non-prospects — each appeared in Kiley McDaniel’s Dodgers write-up this past spring — for this season, the trade is centered on Utley’s potential contribution to the Dodgers.

For the Phillies, this trade is another in a series of transactions which represents a move away from their World Series’ runs at the end of last decade and toward rebuilding. For the Dodgers, in a tight playoff race where any additional help could mean the difference between the playoffs and going home despite a $300+ million outlay in salaries, the move for Chase Utley is no guarantee of success, but the possibility, especially when Utley had been rumored to go to the Giants, likely makes the move worth the effort. Read the rest of this entry »


The Reason to Believe in Chase Utley

There are three reasons to be interested in Chase Utley as a baseball player. One, there’s his whole history. Utley’s track record of being one of the best second basemen in baseball. If his career ended today, he’d be a borderline Hall-of-Famer. Two, he’s available. The Giants are reportedly in negotiations, with the Phillies looking to keep getting younger. If you want Utley, you can have him, provided you give a little something, and provided Utley is open to the chance. Three, this:

Utley’s numbers this year are very bad. He’s not one to typically offer excuses, but Utley injured his right ankle over the winter, and it never really got quite right. Lousy on-field performance followed, and then Utley went to the disabled list for a while. There’s no positive evaluation of what Utley’s been. The Giants are presumably thinking about what Utley might be now. They’d only be interested if they thought that Utley was better. His numbers since returning from the DL the other day are better. Small-sample numbers mean only so much, though. The numbers aren’t the encouraging thing. The swing is the encouraging thing.

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The Phillies Are on Fire for Some Reason

When the Padres decided to sell nothing at all at the trade deadline, one of the public explanations was that the team didn’t want to give up on the playoffs. And one of the explanations for that line of thinking was that the schedule looked pretty soft, so the Padres would have a chance to rack up some much-needed wins against lesser competition. At the time, it seemed more like a fantasy. And now the Padres’ odds are somehow even longer. Their season, for all intents and purposes, is finished. For, this past weekend, they were swept at home by the Phillies.

The Phillies, who are having trouble losing. I don’t know how to gauge public awareness, but just in case you haven’t noticed, the Phillies are playing some really good baseball. I imagine a lot of people tuned out entirely once Cole Hamels went away, and the season started so poorly it wasn’t even worth acknowledging the Phillies’ record, but, as hot as the Blue Jays are at the moment, the Phillies might be no cooler. It’s the Phillies who have baseball’s best record since the All-Star break, at 16-5. You’ll recall it was the Phillies who had baseball’s worst record at the All-Star break, at 29-62. A 52-win pace became a 123-win pace, and while we can still say with a high degree of certainty that the Phillies as presently built are not good, this is the sort of run that has to be talked about. Three or so weeks of the Phillies winning more than anyone else. For those three weeks, I can offer three thoughts.

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NL Rookie of the Year No Longer a Two-Horse Race

Heading into the season, Kris Bryant enjoyed favored status when it came to predicting a National League Rookie of the Year. When FanGraphs writers were polled before the season, 20 of 36 votes went to the Chicago Cubs’ third baseman; seven went Joc Pederson; six were cast for Jorge SolerNoah Syndergaard, Jung Ho Kang and Raisel Iglesias each got one. A couple months into the season, Pederson inserted himself into the race with 13 home runs by the end of May. As the year has moved on, Bryant and Pederson have come back to the pack a bit while Matt Duffy, Kang and Syndergaard have moved into the conversation for the NL’s top rookie. The award is no longer a two-horse battle, and all the players who have risen up are sure to see plenty of exposure since each of them is in the middle of a pennant race.

As Owen Watson wrote, this season has been a historic one for rookies, particularly position players. With Bryant and Pederson leading the way, the rookie class is producing at a greater level than any in the past decade. It’s likely the best class in nearly 30 years, back when Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco were rookies. In the past month, Bryant and Pederson have allowed a few other players to enter the race. Pederson — a three-true-outcomes player to begin the season — has removed the two positive outcomes over the past month, walking just 3% of the time and hitting only one home run. Bryant hasn’t fallen quite as far. He’s still drawing walks, but he is striking out nearly one-third of the time and has a wRC+ of 58 over the past 30 days. Read the rest of this entry »


Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Hamels Trade

What a time to be alive. In a span of hours, Carlos Gomez was almost traded to the Mets; Wilmer Flores cried on the field; and the Dodgers, Braves and Marlins all but completed a deal that seemingly involves dozens of players. But most exciting of all, Cole Hamels is heading to the Rangers in an eight-player deal that also includes Jake Diekman, Matt Harrison, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher. Here’s what my fancy computer math has to say about the five prospects headed to Philly in the trade. Read the rest of this entry »


Scouting the Prospects in the Hamels Trade

In case you missed it, I’ve broken down the prospects in the Tyler Clippard (A’s to Mets) deal, the Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies to Blue Jays) trade and in one post yesterday covered the prospects in the deals of Ben Zobrist (A’s to Royals), Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies to Nationals), David DeJesus (Rays to Angels), and David Murphy (Indians to Angels) trades. It sounds like there’s still a few more deals to come, but last night’s huge deal sending Cole Hamels to the Rangers has plenty of interesting young players to cover.

In short, scouts were surprised that the Phillies sent Hamels to Texas without getting 3B Joey Gallo, RHP Alex Gonzalez or RF Nomar Mazara, but by paying down Hamels and taking Matt Harrison‘s contract, Philly got three prospects from Texas’ top tier, which makes it a nice trade for both teams at this point. You can see Eno’s take on the deal from a big-league perspective and also see my preseason reports on the Rangers deep system and my preseason Top 200 for more notes/context on these players.


Jorge Alfaro, C, Philadelphia Phillies, FV: 55

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Rangers Get a New Ace in Cole Hamels

A lot of pitchers are flashier than Cole Hamels, and every year, a few new guys pop up and post better seasons, only to disappear again into the night not long after. Hamels doesn’t throw 100 and his out-pitch is a change-up instead of a highlight-friendly breaking ball, but with his command of a full repertoire and remarkable consistency, Hamels has established himself as one of the game’s best pitchers.

After a decade in Philadelphia, Hamels now heads to Texas to try and help turn another team into a winner. After a long time on the trade block, Hamels will reportedly be shipped to the Rangers — along with lefty reliever Jake Diekman — for outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and pitchers Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, and Matt Harrison, though the latter is in the deal for contract reasons rather than as a future asset.

The focus will likely be on the the package coming to Philadelphia, given all the words that have been written estimating what Hamels would command as a trade chip, but while the Phillies didn’t get Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, or Alex Gonzalez, the Rangers depth of prospects means that the Phillies still got real talent back even without demanding a team’s best young players. The three primary prospects in the deal were all ranked in the team’s top 10 by Kiley McDaniel this spring, with Alfaro and Thompson both grading out as 55 FV guys, and Williams at 50. Kiley has provided a thorough examination of the players going to Philadelphia. The bottom line, though: these are good prospects that the Rangers surrendered.

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Nationals Reward Drew Storen Breakout With Jonathan Papelbon

Among the bright spots for the Nationals this year has been the emergence of Drew Storen. Already an effective reliever, Storen tweaked his breaking ball and became something of a strikeout machine. Instead of sitting down two of every 10 batters, Storen has bumped that up to three out of 10, succeeding as the closer for a first-place but somehow still disappointing team. As a reward for his step forward, the Nationals have demoted Storen out of the closer role, agreeing to pick up Jonathan Papelbon and everything that comes with him.

For a straight swap, this one’s a little complicated. The Nationals needed to convince Papelbon to come, and there was the matter of his $13-million vesting option. The option was almost sure to vest, but the Nationals opted to guarantee it for $11 million. That gives Papelbon some certainty, yet he’s also been given other certainty: the right to close, down the stretch. Technically, I suppose, the Nationals could go back on their word. And if Papelbon struggles, well, the Nationals would be stupid to leave him there. But this is without question the interesting thing. A team with a closer added a closer.

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Hamels Goes Out on Top?

Even if it were not the most important game of his life, Cole Hamels’ might have just pitched the very best game of his life on Saturday, a potentially fitting end to a fantastic Philadelphia Phillies career. Hamels has started 13 playoff games, including three in the World Series. He put together a 3.20 ERA and 3.51 FIP in over 80 innings of postseason work. Five times Hamels has pitched the opening game in a playoff series and his team has won the last four. He won the World Series MVP for the champion Phillies in 2008 after starting two of the games and pitching 35 innings during that postseason. In 2010, he clinched a series against Johnny Cueto and the Reds with a shutout. So no, Cole Hamels’ start on Saturday was nowhere near the most important start of his career, but it might have been the best and it might have been the last. If Hamels is traded, he left the team nearly a decade after he started, and he provided one final memory in a career that already had plenty to begin with.

The Phillies called Hamels up early on in 2006, and by 2007 he was the ace of a staff that would help the Phillies to five straight division titles. In 2010, the team added Roy Halladay, and in 2011 it was Cliff Lee, although those additions could not top the World Series win in 2008, nor the appearance in 2009. After the run of division titles ended following 2012, injuries and age caught up to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, with stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins also in decline, but Hamels kept pitching well as the losses piled up in Philadelphia.

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Worrying About the Recent Performance of Hamels and Cueto

Between the All-Star break and the trade deadline, most starting pitchers make only a couple starts. For starting pitchers who could be on the move, the small timeframe places those starts under a microscope for those anticipating a trade. Teams wanting to trade for the starter want to ensure that they are getting a pitcher at the peak of his abilities to help with the last few months of the regular season and potentially the playoffs. For the best two starting pitchers on the market, Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels, recent performance has begun to raise questions about their trade value. Whether recent performances have hurt their trade value is debatable, but we can look over the past few seasons and determine whether other pitchers have gone through a dip in performance prior to a trade and compare that performance after the trade.

Some have asserted that Hamels’ last two starts hurt his trade value. While he has given up 14 runs in less than seven combined innings in his last two starts, his underlying stuff (which is great) has not been affected, there was an extended layoff between the two starts due to the All-Star break, and in the outing prior to those starts, Hamels threw seven shutout innings with six strikeouts against no walks. Hamels does have a 3.91 ERA this season, but his 3.37 FIP is still in line with his stellar career numbers.

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A First Look at Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola

The Phillies rotation has been pretty terrible this season. Well, the Phillies in general have been pretty terrible this season, but their rotation has been especially bad, particularly when Cole Hamels hasn’t pitched. If you take away Hamels’ innings, Phillies starters have a 5.86 ERA for the season. 5.86! Collectively, this group has been worth -0.3 WAR and -5.0 RA9-WAR.

It’s been ugly. But fortunately, the Phillies are adding some much-needed pizzazz to the non-Hamels division of their rotation. Aaron Nola, the team’s seventh-overall pick from the 2014 draft, will take over one of the spots in the team’s rotation. He’ll make his big-league debut tonight at 7pm ET against the Tampa Bay Rays. Nola was a consensus top-15 prospect on this year’s recent mid-season prospect lists.

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Cole Hamels, Now Even More Complete

Now may be a weird time to write a glowing report about Cole Hamels. He’s fresh off a bad couple starts, and by ERA and WHIP, the Phillie lefty is having his worst season since 2009. On the other hand, his arsenal has never been more complete. Seen through at least this one lens, at least, Hamels is an ace in his prime. There might not be a better time to write that sort of post, at least.

When Hamels came into the league, he had a great changeup and command of a decent fastball for a lefty, but he struggled with a breaking ball. That led to a weird sort of reverse platoon split — he gave up home runs to lefties. The change was a lesser weapon against same-handed hitters, and the curve was inconsistent. He was good, but he wasn’t Peak Hamels, not yet, not with all those homers.

The first solution? A cutter.

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The Worst Called Strike of the First Half

When you write up the worst called ball of the first half, you’re set up for a two-part series. You have to write up the worst called strike of the first half, as well, or else it feels like something is missing. Usually, I make my own editorial decisions. Technically, this was my decision. But really, this decision was out of my hands. Once the first post went, the second was guaranteed to follow.

Bad called strikes, I think, are less upsetting than bad called balls. Oh, they’re both annoying, but the worst called balls are on pitches down the middle, and it seems inconceivable that an umpire could miss a pitch down the pipe. It’s easier to see why an umpire might grant a strike on a pitch out of the zone. There’s no such thing as the middle of the out-of-the-zone. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing strikes off the plate, so, what’s another inch or two? When you see a strike out of the zone, you think, ugh, whatever. When you see a ball on a pitch down the middle, you think, how did that happen? This is the long way of saying this post might be less interesting than the first one.

But here we are anyway, and your own curiosity will prevent you from leaving this post until you see the result. What’s been the worst called strike of the first half? I don’t mean the strike with the lowest called-strike probability, adjusting for count and handedness and everything. I mean just relative to the rule-book zone, which is directly over home plate. This pitch was 10.7 inches away from the border of the rule-book zone, as it crossed the front plane:

pestano-valbuena

Pretty bad! Lefty strike, but, pretty bad. Clearly outside. One pitch was worse than this.

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Phillies’ Sleeper Righty Franklyn Kilome Has a Velo Spike

Phillies 6-foot-6 righty Franklyn Kilome works from a high 3/4 slot and has the size, arm speed, pitches, and mentality that you want in a starting pitcher. He has shown a huge jump not only in velocity, but also with the consistency of his secondary pitches. His long, lanky frame still oozes projection and the growth he’s shown with his stuff in less than a year has been exciting to watch.

Fastball 60/70

Last summer I had Kilome sitting mostly 89-92 while touching 93 mph on occasion, so seeing him routinely in the 93-95 range and touching 96-97 at times during extended spring training shows how quickly he is developing. The command is still not where it needs to be, but the growth he’s shown in one year is very positive. The fastball is heavy and has excellent sinking action, which is amplified with the good amount of downhill plane he gets by creating angles and letting his tall frame work for him.

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Maikel Franco Emulating Adrian Beltre

Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant are ahead of the pack when it comes to the National League Rookie of the year race, but perhaps lost among many other intriguing promotions, Maikel Franco is having himself a solid rookie season in Philadelphia. Franco has been up just over a month and received 150 plate appearances, but he has already hit nine home runs after two more cleared the fences against the Yankees last night. The 22-year-old does come with some questions, particularly with regard to his plate discipline, but his power is clearly major league-ready. His line on the season is an impressive .312/.353/.574 with a 154 wRC+ that outpaces Bryant thus far, and he provides some hope for the future in a dismal season for the Phillies.

Franco signed out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000 in 2010 without a lot of bulk, but he has beefed up considerably since that time and made a power bat his ticket to the majors. He was noticed as a prospect in 2013 when the 20-year-old Franco tore up High-A and Double-A pitching, hitting 31 home runs with an on-base percentage above .350 despite taking very few walks. Baseball America put Franco at No. 17 on its prospect list entering 2014. Franco was young for the level and struggled with the transition to Triple-A hitting just .209/.267/.318 the first three months of the season before posting excellent numbers in July and August and earning a promotion to Philadelphia in September. Read the rest of this entry »


Jeff Francoeur and Non-Pitchers Pitching In the Game Today

There seems to be an urge to consider Jeff Francoeur‘s Tuesday pitching appearance symbolic. Francoeur’s an outfielder called on to pitch, and he went two innings in a blowout because the bullpen phone was off the hook, and at one point he had to reassure a coach on the field he still had something left in the tank. Superficially, it seems appropriate for this 2015 Phillies major-league train wreck. I’m not totally sold, though. For one thing, communication mishaps can happen to good teams. And for another, has this really been that much of a catastrophe? The Phillies suck, but the Phillies were expected to suck, with our preseason projections calling them the worst club in baseball. This was unavoidable. But, Cole Hamels has been healthy and good. Jonathan Papelbon has been healthy and good. Maikel Franco‘s been good. Down below, J.P. Crawford‘s been good. Aaron Nola‘s been good. There are things going right, here, even while the team loses game after game. Winning wasn’t ever going to be the point. Being able to win again soon is the point.

Maybe I’m taking it too seriously, though. Maybe you’re not supposed to think about it too long. And besides, the state of the Phillies is a different conversation. It’s a bigger conversation. The conversation people want to have right now is more about Jeff Francoeur. How long have we wanted to see Jeff Francoeur pitch? He finally did it, and on a day that two other non-pitchers pitched, in a whole other game.

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Reassessing Ryan Howard’s Trade Value

You remember the offseason that was. It was the offseason in which the Phillies said outright they’d be better off without Ryan Howard. And it was the offseason that concluded with Ryan Howard still on the Phillies. Things could’ve been more awkward than they were, and a conversation did take place between the parties that tried to smooth things over. But, not very long ago, the Phillies had mentally moved on. The problem was that Howard hadn’t gone anywhere.

Then the season started, and Howard was bad. Maybe that wasn’t the biggest surprise. But the season continued, and now Howard’s been good. Isolating just the month of May, Howard’s posted a 156 wRC+, with familiar-looking power. Cole Hamels remarked that Howard looks like the old version of Ryan Howard, by which I mean the younger version of Ryan Howard, and Ruben Amaro has said before that the best thing Howard can do is hit. When Howard hits, then in theory, there are more options. So it’s worth wondering now: with Howard actually looking productive, what can we make of his trade value?

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MLB Scores a Partial Victory in Minor League Wage Lawsuits

Eight Major League Baseball teams won an initial victory on Wednesday in two federal lawsuits contesting MLB’s minor league pay practices under the minimum wage and overtime laws. At the same time, however, the judge denied the league a potentially more sweeping victory in the cases.

The two lawsuits were filed in California last year by former minor league players who allege that they received as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite routinely being required to work 50 or more hours per week during the playing season (in addition to mandatory off-season training). MLB and its thirty teams responded to the suit by challenging the plaintiffs’ claims on a variety of grounds. Wednesday’s decision considered two of these defenses in particular.

First, 11 of the MLB franchises argued that they were not subject to the California court’s jurisdiction and therefore must be dismissed from the lawsuit. Second, all 30 MLB teams argued that the case should be transferred from California to a federal court in Florida, which they argued would be a more convenient location for the trial.  In its decision on Wednesday, the court granted MLB a partial victory, agreeing to dismiss eight of the MLB defendant franchises from the suit due to a lack of personal jurisdiction, but refusing to transfer the case to Florida. Read the rest of this entry »


A Far-Too-Early 2015 MLB Mock Draft

I wrote yesterday about the uncertainty surrounding the #1 overall pick, but that doesn’t keep scouts from trying to figure out who will go in the subsequent picks. It’s way too early to have any real idea what’s going to happen beyond the top 10-15 picks, but the buzz is growing in the scouting community about how things will play out and you people are sustained by lists, predictions and mock drafts. You’re welcome.

I’d bet it’s more telling on draft day to make judgments using the buzz and all the names I mention, rather than the one name I project to be picked, but you guys already don’t read the introduction, so I’ll shut up. For reports, video and more on these players, check out my latest 2015 MLB Draft rankings, or, if your team doesn’t pick high this year, look ahead with my 2016 & 2017 MLB Draft rankings.

UPDATE 5/11/15: Notes from this weekend’s college games: Dillon Tate was solid in front of GM’s from Arizona, Houston and Colorado. Dansby Swanson was even better, in front of decision makers from all the top teams, including Houston, who may still be debating whether they’d take Swanson or Rodgers if given the choice (Rodgers’ season is over). Carson Fulmer did what he usually does and probably has a home from picks 7-17 depending on how things fall on draft day, with an evaluation similar to Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray as previous undersized righties with stellar track records and plus stuff.

Andrew Benintendi went nuts at the plate again (I’ll see him and Fulmer this weekend). And, finally, Jon Harris was excellent, rebounding from a not-so-great start, so, at this point, I would make Harris the 9th pick to the Cubs and slide Trenton Clark down a few picks, but still comfortably in the top 20. I also updated the 2016 MLB Draft Rankings as a few top prospects came off the DL and impressed, further strengthening the top of that draft, which is far and away better than this year’s draft.

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
I wrote about this more in depth yesterday, where I wrote it’s down to CF Garrett Whitley, C Tyler Stephenson and CF Daz Cameron with some chance RHP Dillon Tate is still in the mix and SS Dansby Swanson possibly involved. After writing that, I heard that Arizona is definitely considering those prep players, but teams don’t think they’ll pull the trigger on a way-below-slot prep option and they are leaning college, with Tate and Swanson the targets and SS Alex Bregman also getting some consideration as a long shot.

I’ve heard Arizona wants a hitter here and GM Dave Stewart was in to see Vanderbilt last night. I had heard they were laying in the weeds on Swanson, so, for now, I’ll go with Swanson here. To be clear, Arizona hasn’t made any decisions yet, so this group could still grow or they could change course. One scouting director told me yesterday when asked what he thought Arizona would do that “it sounds like they are going to do something crazy.” Until a few hours before this published, I had Arizona taking Whitley, so this is still very much in flux. There’s also some thought that Tate or Swanson were the targets all along and the rumors of cut-rate high school options have just been a ploy to get the price down–you can pick your own theory at this point.

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