What Mark Reynolds Means To Milwaukee

Minor-league contracts don’t really matter all that much in baseball, no matter how much some fans might think they do. Each year, teams sign dozens of guys to non-guaranteed deals that may or may not include an invite to major league camp, and much of the time you never hear those names ever mentioned again after March. It’s not an official FanGraphs rule that minor-league deals aren’t worth covering, but it might as well be; when Delmon Young got a guaranteed contract from Philadelphia last year, there was a post about it. When the Orioles made him an NRI last week, there wasn’t.

Yet here I am, talking about Milwaukee’s decision to add Mark Reynolds to the first base mix on a non-guaranteed contract, partially because it seems likely that he will have a real impact on the team this year, and partially because of what it says about the Brewers.

Remember, Milwaukee didn’t just have a bad situation at first base last year. They had, according to our database, the worst first base collection in the history of baseball, at least dating back to 1900:

BA OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2013 Brewers .211 .256 .359 -39.9 -30.9 -4.6
1920 Athletics .229 .273 .275 -52.9 -12.0 -4.3
1970 White Sox .235 .287 .328 -41.8 -26.5 -3.8
1968 Red Sox .198 .246 .267 -41.7 -8.0 -3.7
1947 Phillies .207 .248 .315 -47.7 -10.5 -3.6

Now, you can quibble with the term “worst” if you like. You can argue that WAR is imperfect and that we can’t really say we have a great idea of how well the 1920 Philadelphia Athletics played first base defense, which we probably don’t.  You can say that by wOBA, the 2013 Brewers were really only tied for the 22nd-worst of the last 113 years. But it really doesn’t matter at that point, does it? It’s like arguing which of the many Weezer albums after Pinkerton was the most disappointing. Order them however you like, the answer is always going to be: all of them. If you’re even in the conversation, it’s a huge problem.

That’s what happens when Corey Hart and Mat Gamel both miss the season with knee injuries, and so instead you give 62 (!) starts to Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez, who were below-average hitters even when they were only being compared to shortstops. That’s what happens when 62 more go to Juan Francisco, who managed a .221/.300/.433 line that is almost, to the decimal point, consistent with his career average, and that’s what happens when one of the dim lights of a brutal farm system, Hunter Morris, follows up a 2012 Southern League MVP season with an age-24 2013 so disappointing in the PCL (.247/.310/.457) that he didn’t even merit a token September recall.

Obviously, the position was to be an area of focus this offseason, but nothing has come of it. Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin indicated that he’d attempted to import James Loney, who instead returned to Tampa Bay, and that he’d had little luck prying Mitch Moreland out of Texas, despite the addition of Prince Fielder. The Brewers have been attached to Ike Davis rumors for months, and something may yet come of it, but for now, nothing, and it’s not made easier by the fact that their divisional rivals in Pittsburgh need a first baseman as well, and can at least offer the allure of a playoff race.

And so: Mark Reynolds, who despite the minor-league deal is considered a “near-lock” to make the team and might even see the majority of starts, lest the team subject themselves and their fans to another season of Francisco and friends. At his peak, Reynolds was a masher who had enough balls leave the park — and somehow stole 24 bases in 2009, so raise your hand if you remembered that, because I certainly didn’t — to overlook his historic whiff rate. (Of the six times in history a hitter has struck out 200 times, three belong to Reynolds.)

But as fewer of the balls he did make contact with made it into the air, and fewer of those left the yard…

reynolds_hr_fb

…and as Reynolds’ never-stellar third base defense disintegrated into near-unplayable, he’s become basically a replacement-level player. Despite 62 homers over the last three years for the Orioles, Indians, and Yankees, Reynolds has been worth all of 0.2 WAR since the start of 2011. Yet teams wanted him, with one report indicating that he had “several offers,” and another naming the Yankees, Rangers, Nationals, Twins, and Orioles as teams with interest.

Of course, for the Brewers, merely replacement-level represents a massive improvement. A full season of Reynolds and all his flaws over Betancourt and Gonzalez and the rest could be an improvement on the order of four wins, and perhaps slightly more if all goes well: Miller Park ranked as the fourth-best place in baseball for right-handed homers in both 2013 and 2012, and 148 of Reynolds’ 202 career homers  have been to left or left-center. Again, it’s not because Reynolds is especially good, and perhaps not even better than Francisco, with whom he shared a 96 wRC+ last season, but simply being replacement-level or slightly above is a huge step up from last season’s garbage fire, especially with some potential of a platoon with the lefty Francisco.

For the price of nothing — $2m if he makes the team, and $500k in possible incentives — Milwaukee has probably added value, and so it’s difficult to argue with that. But then, the opportunity to discuss the Brewers in any context does raise the significant question of, well, what exactly the team is doing. They’re the only club in baseball not to have signed a single free agent to a major league deal this winter; other than than trading Norichika Aoki to Kansas City for pitcher Will Smith, their activity has been limited to bringing in Quad-A types like Reynolds, Zach Duke, Brad Mills, Irving Falu, and Greg Golson on minor-league deals, and taking a gamble on Rule 5 pitcher Wei-Chung Wang.

If the idea is that the team finished 23 games back in an extremely tough division and there was little they could do to close that gap this winter, then that’s a defensible decision, except so far there’s been no movement on turning older players with some remaining value like Aramis Ramirez and Kyle Lohse who aren’t likely to be part of the next good Milwaukee team into young talent. It’s simply treading water, neither building for the future nor contending for now, and no matter how you feel about some particular off-field problems, this is no way to be spending the primes of Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez.

At the moment, our depth charts have the Brewers ranked above only four other teams, and while the Phillies continue to entertain us, at least the White Sox and Cubs seem to have plans, and the Marlins have an enviable collection of young talent. The Brewers can’t say that, not with a farm system consistently ranked in the bottom five, and while giving up a first-round pick for Kendrys Morales certainly isn’t the answer, neither, it seems, is doing nothing at all. Signing Reynolds to a non-guaranteed deal is a nice little January move; it’s just a problem when it’s potentially your biggest move.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


44 Responses to “What Mark Reynolds Means To Milwaukee”

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  1. triple_r says:

    The labels in that first table look a little off…

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  2. Bob M says:

    Aramis Ramirez is 35, played 92 games last season, and is due $16 million this season (in the last year of his deal). What type of young, projectable talent could the Brewers get in trade for him?

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    • Ian R. says:

      You’re probably talking about a lottery-ticket type prospect, but the Brewers system is so bad that even flawed prospects would represent an improvement.

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    • SecondHandStore says:

      He is technically due $16 million for 2014, but $6 million of it is deferred. If the Brewers agree to pay the deferred salary he becomes a lot easy to trade. A club in the AL makes the most sense, as they can put him in the DH spot every now and again to keep him fresh. Even hurt last year he hit 283/370/461 with a 132 wRC+. I’m pretty sure there are teams that would be interested in that.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      If he stays healthy he could be moved at the deadline for an interesting teenage prospect.

      I could see an AL contender looking to bolster their DH/1B/3B situation grabbing him. A’s and Yanks make sense.

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  3. JSprech says:

    I think you correct about the Brewers wasting the prime years of Gomez & Braun, but missed the point on what value Mark Reynolds has to the Brewers. What can the team really do except tread water? They are more or less maxed out on payroll unless the team is poised to contend (which it obviously is not).
    For pennies on the dollar, you get a guy who could at best catch fire and hit 30 home runs, and at *worst* plays terribly and doesn’t make the 40-man roster. The Brewers don’t have to pay him anything in that case. Sounds like a can’t-lose scenario and a smart signing to me.

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      I thought I was pretty upbeat on it being a good signing, no?

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      • yaboynate says:

        “A full season of Reynolds and all his flaws over Betancourt and Gonzalez and the rest could be an improvement on the order of four wins, and perhaps slightly more if all goes well…”

        “Signing Reynolds to a non-guaranteed deal is a nice little January move; it’s just a problem when it’s potentially your biggest move.”

        I think the problem is that you have to actually read the whole article to get to these parts. Shame on you, Mike. Please stop providing context and start speaking in hyperbole. While you’re at it, change the title of your piece to “The One SICK Signing You’ve Never Heard Of! (GMs HATE Him!)”

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        • Gabes says:

          “…next on BuzzGraphs, 23 Minor League Contracts you NEED to see before your team’s GM dies…”

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      • JSprech says:

        Fair enough, point taken.

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      • LaLoosh says:

        I didn’t get that feeling.

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  4. Dauber says:

    Oh, Weezer. At least Doc Gooden had drugs to blame.

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  5. Matt Wolf says:

    The Brewer’s believe that a “healthy” contract year from A-Ram and a full year of a nonsuspend Ryan Braun, serve to replace a “star” free agent signing. Further more, the strong finish to the pitching season has the front office feeling optimistic about their pitching, although they are likely to add one or two veterans for the pen. In addition they believe a full season of Scooter Gennet over Rickie Weeks and Kris Davis’s will also add value. I strongly believe there are question marks, but Reynolds will hit a lot HR’s in Miller Park. This team will surprise A LOT of people. Trust me!

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    • Longfellow says:

      Yeah, I think they can finish around .500. However, with the state of their farm system and their small budget, they need to either sell or go for it. Staying stagnant is doing nothing for them.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      I agree they have potential, but they really should be grabbing Ubaldo or Garza to bolster the rotation.

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      • oh Hal says:

        That probably means cutting loose guys that will pitch for other teams or putting guys who have always been starters into the bullpen. Then there’s a pretty good chance of having the pitchers who got thrown away performing close to or as well as guys like Garza. They’ve got about 7 starters ready to go. Spending on very expensive replacements doesn’t make much sense.

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  6. Robert J. Baumann says:

    As a Brewers fan, for me, the question becomes whether moving guys like Lohse and A-Ram (even for probably modest returns) will hurt 2014 attendance significantly. Brewers fans have shown in recent years that they will show up to see a team that has the potential to be .500 (2.5 million in 2013 for an average 31k/game), which maybe helps build funds for the future. I don’t know.

    The salaries of Ramirez ($4 buyout), Weeks (likely not to have option vest), Gallardo, and Gorzellany coming off the books after 2014, only Marco Estrada due for a significant raise via arbitration, and a slew of their current players earning ~$500k, the Brewers should have < $50M designated for 2015. Ostensibly, this would give them ~$40M to play with.

    Perhaps it would be better to get a jump start on adding some [risky] upside to the farm by trading Lohse and Ramirez, but either way, it seems like they are biding their time in 2014 and could be looking to strike big in 2015, when they will still have the core of Braun, Gomez, Lucroy, and Segura together for at least two more years before Gomez is a FA after 2016.

    This is boring right now, but it will probably get a lot more interesting at the 2014 trade deadline. Not to say that we should trust Doug Melvin…

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      Is Kyle Lohse really drawing fans?

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      • Forrest Gumption says:

        If you are going to watch a baseball game specifically to see Kyle Lohse play, then you have really low standards of being entertained.

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      • jfree says:

        Blame that on Fangraphs. The Corey Kluber Society has completely sucked the oxygen out of any alternative for all baseball fans of German ethnicity who like beer. And Milwaukee just doesn’t have that many Nomlakis

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      • wscaddie56 says:

        No but having a solid starter will help the brewers be around .500. The fans in Milwaukee/Wisconsin will past to see a decent club and with our TV contract likely being the worst in baseball attendance is very important.

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  7. Chickensoup says:

    I guess the question i have to ask the writer is this, what kind of return do you think the Brewers are going to get for the players they should be dumping salary on? Honestly ask yourself, do you think they would get a prospect to break even their abysmal top 10 for Ramirez at this point? Is Weeks even tradable? Would Gallardo garner any trade talk?

    It’s nice in theory to dump salary when you are not winning and another thing entirely to actually do it and get an acceptable return. There needs to be another team who can take on the salary and is willing to give up a player you are at least somewhat interested in to make a trade. Most of what Milwaukee would want to trade away are coming off bad/injury plagued years. Their tradable pieces are Lucroy, Gomez, Segura, and Braun with a few cost controlled pitchers thrown in.

    My guess is that the team thinks (i believe rightly) that they can get a higher return on players by letting them actually play this year and showcase themselves. Think of the difference in prospects the team will get for Gallardo/Ramirez/maybe even Weeks (if he even gets to play) if they play at a decent level uninjured to the trade deadline as compared to what they would get right now (which is close to nothing). At worst they are gambling and those players fall on their faces and they are at the same point they are right now.

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  8. Forrest Gumption says:

    Never underestimate the home run, if Earl Weaver was still alive and managing, he’d be asking his GM to find him 9 Mark Reynolds.

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    • Anon says:

      Except that Reynolds fails the defense part of “Pitching, defense and the 3 run home run” and of course, he cannot pitch. One of the remarkable things about Weaver is he kept coming up with guys who very good defenders who also could hit (well, except for Belanger of course).

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      • Bill says:

        Reynolds also doesn’t get on base very often. But, aside from this and his atrocious defense, he’s a perfect Earl Weaver player. A team of Reynolds would hit a record number of solo homeruns and would be terrible.

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      • John C says:

        A lot of the guys that Earl played couldn’t play any defense. He was a master at getting them into the game at first base (before he got Eddie Murray, at least), left field, or DH where he could benefit from their ability to crunch opposite-side pitching while hiding their gloves. He had the glove men up the middle and at third, where they mattered most.

        He could have gotten a lot of use out of Mark Reynolds. And so will the Brewers if they spot him correctly.

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  9. oh Hal says:

    What is the target year for contention in the author’s mind? If its 3 or 4 years down the road, then the entire roster should be open to trades including Segura and Lucroy and certainly Gomez. It would be ludicrous to think that a chance of competing for a year or two would justify not selling their contracts at the peak of their value.

    Other than 1st, where does the author think that the team is weak? Is it the idea that an ace or a pair of aces sis necessary for any team to be serious about the playoffs?

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      Weak at first. Weak at second. I’m not totally sold on Segura after that second half, though I’m not advocating they replace him. Strong in OF. Weak in rotation. Very weak in farm system.

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  10. mr33 says:

    I’m not sure where the harm is in letting the first few months of the season play out before looking to trade the old guys, mostly because I’m not sold on the division being extremely tough. The Pirates and Reds should win many fewer games this year and the Cubs are terrible. It seems possible the Brewers can win enough to fake it into August and keep fans coming to the park.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Hope springs eternal.

      The Reds are basically the same team as 2013 sans Choo who they replace with a guy who might even be able to steal 1B. The Bucs are the same team sans AJ, but with Taillon and Polanco ready to debut.

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  11. DaveK says:

    The Brewers got only 529 AB’s combined out of their 3-4 hitters Braun and Ramirez last year. For most of those AB’s neither was 100% physically either. If they get an additional 500 AB’s from those two, that’s like adding a quality FA bat. Two guys they are counting on now Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett put up really good numbers the last couple months. If they as a combo can come reasonably close to that over 162 games, the lineup is solid. A solid year from Davis, say 25-28 HR, will offset the loss of Aoki. If Gennett can maintain a .280 BA, with a little pop, that’s a big improvement over what Weeks provided the last two seasons.

    There are 6 guys in the lineup with 20+ HR potential (Davis, Gomez, Braun, Ramirez, Reynolds and Lucroy) and at least two and maybe a third in Davis with 30+ HR potential. They had an All Star SS and CF last year in Segura and Gomez and an All Star caliber catcher in Lucroy.

    Things are not all the bleak.

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    • Rob says:

      whoa, 25 hr? I’m a Brewer’s fan and I think it’s more likely that he flames out than hits that much. 18 homers would be an amazing year.

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    • Craiginsc says:

      Mute point if they don’t have the pitching. I agree that Braun, Gomez,Aram, and lucroy is a good base for the lineup…and if segura can maintain at the top that helps…however with their rotation what are the Brewers getting?

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  12. Anon says:

    Maybe someone can help me – the comment about the Brewers’ production out of 1B made me go pull the team batting stats for all teams for 1B. The number of PA and games ranges from 337/1271 for the Astros to 139/539 for the Mariners. That is simply not possible – did the Mariners just not play someone at 1B for 23 games? (Although, that might help explain their poor record. . . .). It would also seem that the Astros played 2 1B in each and every game and 3 in 13 games which is possible but not likely. The spread in PA just isn’t possible either – sure some teams will have their 1B hit higher in the order and some teams will play more extra inning games but no way could that cover a spread of over 700 PA. I went to b-ref and they have a much more expected spread of about 100 PA between teams (just as an observation, even that is higher than I would expect). Sorting by other positions yields similar results at every position except pitcher which has a spread that is at least believable. Actually, DH shows that only 17 teams used a DH last year which is also not possible.

    It would appear to me that Fangraphs has some sort of error in how stats are compiled by position.

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  13. DaveK says:

    Anon,

    In the case of the Brewers, they list the first basemen and include all of their PA, not just the ones accumulated playing 1B. Betancourt for instance had only 185 of his 409 PA as a first baseman. Most of the rest of his time was spent at 3B filling in for the injured Ramirez, which further makes my point that not only can Reynolds be an upgrade, but a healthy Ramirez would be even a bigger upgrade over what they had to replace him with last year.

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    • Anon says:

      That was my assumption at first, but that does not explain the Mariners only having 139 games at 1B – who was on first for those other 23 games? (aside: “I don’t know, THIRD BASE!”) They had somebody standing out there at 1B for all 162 games. I can say that with great certainty without having seen even 1 Mariners game this year.

      You can find similar anomalies at every position – the Astros have 152 games at 2B. Again, they certainly had someone standing out there at 2B for all 162 games.

      Furthermore, if that is the answer (all PA at all positions for all players that played even an inning at 1B), then it does not paint a true picture of what the Brewers received from the 1B position, does it?

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      • jfree says:

        Well actually that is the reason the Mariners signed so many 1B this offseason. They are still short 23 games at 1B from last year and they need to make it up this year or pay a luxury tax

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  14. Craiginsc says:

    Does the signing of overbay and the notion of a platoon change the take on Reynold’s signing? I don’t like the Reynolds 1/2 of the platoon but a planned platoon is a good way for a team to get cheaper production.

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  15. Johnny Ringo says:

    I’m not a Brewers fan at all, but this article seems off the mark when it starts talking about the Brewer’s “doing nothing”.

    For one, what teams are lining up to acquire Aramis Ramirez and Kyle Lohse, and if so, what exactly are they giving up? Do you not think the Brewers would take the package if it was one they felt good about?

    It most likely isn’t happening. What other trade pieces do they have? Nada. What major free agents want to sign with a currently losing team? Very few, unless they are the ones that are going to be signed at the last minute on bargain deals.

    That’s what the Brewers are waiting on and who can blame them?

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    • LaLoosh says:

      Why wouldn’t Lohse have plenty of value? Regardless, the Brewers should at least have cashed in Weeks and Gallardo. I’m not sure who the Brewers would have at 3B if they dealt ARam but he’s got value given the short term commitment to him. With no real path to contention in 2014, Melvin absolutely should have been more aggressive this winter in turning over the roster.

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  16. Utah Dave says:

    I am not a Brewers fan nor am I a Brewers hater.

    Why does everyone hate Kyle Lohse? He’s not a stud, but I would say he is pretty consistent.

    Also, is anyone considering that Ryan Braun’s output might (not saying will, just saying might) be diminished by not having the help of PED’s?

    If your options at 1B are a platoon of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds, I think you have a problem at 1B. That doesn’t mean your team is dead in the water, but I don’t think any team would want to see that at 1B.

    I will admit that I do remember Mark Reynolds when he was on the D-backs and mashed the ball pretty consistently and stole bases. He swung at a lot of bad pitches, too. But I didn’t think he’d turn into Dave Kingman 2.0.

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  17. John C says:

    On one hand, you say they should deal people like Ramirez and Lohse for whatever they can get out of them, which would have the immediate effect of turning the 2014 Brewers from a .500 team (on paper) into a 100-loss garbage dump. Then, in the very same paragraph, you decry them for wasting the primes of Braun and Gomez.

    Which is it? Should they spend the rest of the prime years of Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez emulating the current Houston Astros, stinking out the league so they can stockpile high draft picks and rebuild, or should they do what they can to put a respectable team on the field, and hope that they do a good enough job of bargain shopping that their 81-win team wins 91 games one season and puts them in the playoffs?

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