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Recapping the Random – 05/22/2013

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Slowly,  this Cubs team is starting to look like a project in motion, rather than a wreckage left by a past regime.

No, they won’t go anywhere this year and they may not next year, but sure enough they are starting to take a game here and there where they normally (for the past few seasons at least) would not.  They were moving right along at a decent clip before the Dark Knight of Gotham, Matt Harvey, came along and slowed their mojo.  By the way, lets talk about Matt Harvey for a minute, the guy is a stud! He is 5-0 on a team that is 17-25 and recovering from being madoffed.   He is 2-0 in the last three games he pitched with six runs of total support.  Yes stat-heads, I just used wins as a determining factor.  I’ll even break it down in simpler terms…the guy is winning games on a crap team.  When I see that, I just figure the rest of the statistical minutiae fall in line….don’t worry , I checked and it does.

Where was I, oh yah, the Cubs look to be entering the race finally.  A friend recently said they looked as though they are finally approaching the first quarter pole.  I say whoa!  Lets take a few steps back, how about they just saddled the horse?  (A salute to Mike Quade if you will?) At least it seems they know they are entered in a race.  It may be one that finishes sometime in 2017, but lets be thankful for the little things in these little times.

Meanwhile, the glaring issue of the bullpen rears it’s ugly head and throws away a nice start by Matt Garza.  Freakin’ bullpens, they are about as sexy as the offensive line in football, but damn it if they are not as important.  The funny thing is they are made up of guys who failed everywhere else on the diamond.  These guys seem to come from everywhere.  How often do you hear, “well, John was a shortstop when he was drafted but now he’s a long reliever.”  You don’t really start out as a reliever, you end up there, yet the importance is massively understated.  How many teams in baseball right now would be great if they only had a bullpen?

Anyhow, on with the news…..

 

  • The week started off with Don Mattingly’s job in jeopardy. Now it seems like all is well?  Look, I grew up on Don Mattingly.  His 1984 Topps rookie card was the first modern card to balloon to stratospheric values within the same year as its release.  It put baseball card collecting on the map.  However, when there is a lot of money on the line the first guy to go is the manager, even if it is the great Donnie Ballgame!  (side note – pretty sure his rookie card is worth less now than it was 25 years ago)
  • Ryan Vogelsong broke his hand swinging at an inside fastball.  DH in the NL anyone?
  • Miguel Cabrera hit three homers in one game and the Tigers still lost.
  • Baseball Prospectus did a piece on the 10 players in baseball history “they wish had stayed healthy”.  It’s worth a read, and yes, Mark Prior is number seven.
  • So, basically Theo told Ian Stewart that Vitters is the future at third base for the Cubs?  Should we call it the cold corner for a little while?

 

Tweet of the week:

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Recapping the Random – 05/08/2013

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

I watch a lot of “other” baseball.  ”Other” meaning teams besides the Cubs.  It started years ago when I purchased the ridiculously expensive Extra Innings package on DirecTV.  I feel I have learned a little something venturing outside the broadcasts of our beloved Cubs.

Every team seems to have an identity and then key components built around said identity.  Overall, I feel there are four qualities that separate a winning baseball team from one that sits on middle ground or lower: defense , timely hitting, starting pitching and bullpen.  I used to think coaching mattered, and it does, but as Dusty Baker used to say, “gimme the horses and I will win.”  Well guess what Dusty, so will many others.

Coaching and the much talked about chemistry are great, but they don’t play the same importance in baseball that they do in other sports.  Winning teams, while displaying all four qualities, tend to lean on two or three of these as major strengths.  When I say they are strengths, I am saying they are dominant over most of the rest of the league in that category.  Remember, you have your opinion , I have mine.  Do share in the comments.

My question to Cub fans is this, of these four qualities, would you consider the Cubs to be strong in any of them?  Remember, lets say strong would be qualified as being in the top third of the league.  If so, please explain.

 

 

The News…or something like it.

 

NL East: 

  • Could this be the end of a great story , or just another bump in the road for Evan Gattis?  If you don’t know his story this is worth a read.
  • Juan Pierre Stole his 600th base.  What’s more interesting is a list of all the players ahead of him included in the link.  ”The Rick” is still blowing everybody else away.

NL Central:

NL West:

 

Tweet of the Week:

 

 

Well, that will rap it up for now.  See you in two weeks and don’t forget to weigh in on the question from the intro!

 

 

 

 

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Recapping the Random – 04/24/13

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

A friend of mine likened the current iteration of the Cubs to a person going through a cleanse.  The steps vary depending on the seriousness of the cleanse.  First you purge the toxic or harmful entities.  You then go through treatment, and soon after, a recovery.  You need a recovery period from what I am told.  You don’t want to take down a cheeseburger with your first meal back in the saddle.  I feel as though the Cubs are somewhere between the treatment stage and recovery stage, and we are feeling the pain, agony, and discomfort of the process as fans.  The Cubs are a baseball version of the cleanse if you will, and most people who go through a cleanse are tortured by the process.   Some people will actually tell you they enjoy the process of a cleanse.  These are people I don’t trust.   However, when things get bad, sometimes you need to erase everything and start over no matter how unpleasant it may be.

Throughout this cleanse it has become hard to sit through games, torturous even.  Monday nights game against the Reds might have been the pinnacle.  If anybody told me I would be watching Kevin Gregg piggyback a Carlos Marmol effort again in my lifetime, I would have told them to keep smoking what they are smoking and eventually they will pass out.  I know there is a plan here, buried under the heap that is our bullpen, but Kevin Gregg?   When they signed him it was like a cruel trick.  I thought somebody hacked the Baseball Trade Rumors site.  The first thing I thought to do was check and see who projects as the number one draft pick in the 2014 Draft.  I was sure that’s what we were going for with these savvy moves.

Nonetheless, Marmol was shockingly good (over two innings!) and Gregg walked one but came out unscathed.  That’s three innings of pure magic right there.  Cap that off with a Valbuena 2 run dinger in the 13th and your set, right? right???

NOPE.

The pain and agony of the cleanse ticks on…..only a year or so left I guess.

 

AL Central

  • If you thought it was bad that the Cubs picked up Kevin Gregg, ask Tigers fans what they are thinking about Jose Valverde’s return to the D.
  • The Marlins and Twins were snowed out.  Jose Fernandez has never seen snow….until now.  Nothing like a mid-April Blizzard to warm the cockles.

AL East

 

AL West

  • Remember the ball Josh Hamilton dropped to give the A’s the AL West last year? Just sold for $1280…..this could be the signal that tips the economy.

 

We’ll do the NL next time, but in its place…..

 

Tweet of the week….

Here is a tweet I never thought I would see the likes of again…..

I will say this, how many games has Marmol won through suckage?  I think he leads the league right now in blown save wins, which should be a SABR stat of some sort.

 

 

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Recapping the Random – 04/10/2012

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

*Editors note – I wrote all of this before the 7th inning of last nights game.  Just because the Cubs came back it does not change anything….they are still a poorly constructed team that is painful to watch.

Did you really think the Cubs were going to be good this year?

Your first tip should have been the lat strain suffered by Matt Garza when he took the diamond the first day of spring training.  He might as well have done it tying his shoes on day one.  That was your first hint this year would be no different than any other in the last century plus. Yes, I know it may not have been the first day but that’s semantics, it seemed like the first day.  The latest news is we will see him some time in mid-May.  My bet is on June.

The second sign might have been Brent Lillibridge.  As of this writing he is 0-17 with seven K’s.  Guess we shouldn’t expect much from a career .208 hitter, plus that offensive juggernaut Darwin Barney will return to reclaim his rightful position at second base any day now.   That ought to help put runs on the board.

Then there’s Marmol.  You knew I would get to him eventually.  I can’t figure out whether he lost his confidence and everything he tries backfires, or did teams put together enough advance scouting to finally say, “why are we swinging at this guy?”  Think about it, even when he was good, throwing strikes wasn’t his forte, was it? I can’t remember, it was so long ago that he was effective.  I would have to clear out a whole new wing of cobwebs to find those memories.  It is a sad state of affairs when your closer gets booed during opening day introductions.

Oh yes, there are some positives, but the story line so far has been the lack of offense.  The Cubs rate second to last in almost every category (the lowly Pirates are keeping the basement warm.)

At any rate, there is no offense and the pitching is mediocre at best…..looks like 2012 all over again.

So what else has been happening in baseball?  Let’s Look…..

  • First of all, I can’t say this with enough glee, but Tim McCarver is retiring at seasons end.  The stomach churning tandem of the Tim and Joe show on Saturday Fox Baseball will come to an end.  Sometimes I can actually feel them rooting on the Cardinals while doing a Cubs/ Cards broadcast.  Now, if we could just get Joe Morgan to go away…..
  • Small sample size, but Bryce Harper is showing everybody that there is no sophomore slump to worry about.  He hit a home run in each of his first two at bats on opening day and is currently hitting .360
  • While getting shellacked in his second start against the Rangers, Jared Weaver broke his left elbow.  He will be out at least one month.
  • I saved this link and could not wait to share it.  Not a fan of the guy, but sometimes when I need a laugh I check out Jose Canseco’s twitter feed.  The above link is his list of New Years resolutions or whatever…
  • On the topic of Twitter and being entertained…..give @realcj10 a follow.  That would be Larry “Chipper” Jones.  The diarrhea flows and never seems to stop.  Here are a few samples…..

Chipper Jones@RealCJ103 Apr

I got cursed at and called names by a ton of people growing up. Were they fired? Nope! Do I care? Nope! What’s the big deal? Toughen up!

Chipper Jones@RealCJ103 Apr

Yeah, been hit w/ bball equipment on purpose, been dragged around a football field by my facemask and ran suicides til I puked! I ain’t mad.

These tweets were, of course, in reference to the Mike Rice firing at Rutgers.  For those not in the know that care, read here.

To read more about Chipper and his misadventures go here.  I swear there is something about adultery with a Hooters waitress in there.

I like tweets, especially from meat head athletes like Chipper.  I’ll have more in two weeks. Until then…. 

 

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Chet’s Corner: Five Burning Questions for Seasons End

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

With eight measly games left in a season that saw more positives off the field than on, questions remain as to the future of the Cubs.  However, before we drag this potential hundred loss horse out back and shoot it,  let’s take a minute to find some positives.

As always, your input is encouraged.

1)  Who would be your Cubs MVP of the 2012 season?

I am torn.  I want to vote Rizzo but Castro played a full season and turned in another fine performance.  Darwin barney and Shark could make a claim for the spot.  I think I am sticking with Castro here.  If they would give him a regular slot in the lineup I think he would be more consistent.  Bouncing him around did him no favors and he still performed at the plate.

2) If you had to grade Theo, Jed and the crew on their first season in the Cubs front office what grade would you give them?

I am going with a solid B.  I can’t even expand on why, other then to say the effort just looks like a B at this point, but if they moved Soriano and Garza (somewhat out of their control) then the grade could be higher.  Dempster-gate probably was not their fault but better communication may have solved that Braves deal.   In all, the moves they made or didn’t make get them a B.

3)  What is the one area on this team that needs to be addressed between now and through next season?

Pitching.  Third base is weak and needs attention, but the pitching is next to atrocious up and down the system.

4)  How do you feel about Theo’s honest assesment of the teams low expectation’s for 2013?

In a weird way, I liked it.  I also feel that it takes a lot for management to forecast low expectations in any industry, so things must really be bad on the north side from an organizational stand point.

5) Let’s talk about Eric Gagne’s recent admission regarding HGH and his new Biography, what are your thoughts?

According to Gagne, 80% of the Dodgers were using HGH when he played there.  More numbers are going to come out as more and more of the PED era players retire.  The greats may not talk as much, but the fringe guys like Gagne will, especially if they can sell a book in the process.

 

Only eight more games people, hang in there.  Then again, since the front office states next season won’t be much better, look at it as 170 games…that’s a lot of baseball.

 

 

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Chet’s Corner: 20 Games Left and A History Lesson

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

It seems like a countdown to seasons end, right?  It’s not just that I can’t stand to watch this team at the moment, even though I haven’t tuned into a game for at least a week,  it’s more along the lines of excitement for the future.  I just want this season to finish so we can start with a clean slate.  One has to be excited to see what management will do next to bolster this roster for the present and down the road a bit.

In watching from afar, which means reading the box scores and the articles across the web coupled with the random highlight here and there, I find it the best way to follow at this point.  I managed to waste a few hours watching the Nationals series last week and decided that it was safe to “mail it in” for the actual TV viewing of Cub games this season.  I will make my last pilgrimage of the year to Wrigley on Friday to see the team take on the Bucs.  It acts as a finale of sorts to the long 2012 season.

Anyhow, we have twenty games left and I am hopeful that this team can avoid the 100 loss mark.  If we can win 8 games that gets us to 99 losses.   The last time the Cubs saw a 100 loss season was 1966.   They recorded 103 losses and to this day I can’t figure out how a team with Banks, Santo, and Williams lost 103 games.  I will leave it up to a few of the more “experienced” VFTB readers to give us their first hand glimpse of what went down that season.  Was the rest of the team breathing that year? What happened?

*That same lineup was rounded out with the likes of Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Randy Hundley…not exactly chopped liver. 

Alas, if we don’t finish the season strong and we do hit that 100 mark, we can always look back in history to find a positive.  The 1967 team saw a turn for the better.  They ended the season with a 87-74 record and a third place finish overall in the ten team National League.  Now, you might be asking yourself, who were the the big bats that the Cubs signed to right the ship?  However, it wasn’t bats at all,  it was almost a carbon copy of the same starting lineup from the previous 103 loss year.  You guessed it, they got some pitching!

The 1966 season saw the Cubs roll out a cornucopia of below average starting pitching.  Ken Holtzman and an aging Ernie Broglio were the only notables on the starting staff until a newly acquired (they got him after the season started in a trade with the Phillies), and relatively unknown, Fergie Jenkins made a few starts.

The 1967 season, coincidentally, was the year Jenkins made a name for himself.  In his first full season as a starter he won 20 games.  It would be his first 20 win season in a streak that spanned six straight.  The Cubs bolstered the starting staff with Joe Niekro and Rich Nye.  Serving in the National Guard and pitching on random weekend dates, Ken Holtzman only started 12 games during the ’67 season but his record was 9-0.

*the last sentence of the above paragraph could probably serve as a catalyst to a whole other post on the “how things have changed since then” topic. 

The same nucleus of players then went on a tear for about six straight seasons that saw the Cubs finish second or third in the National League each year.   Too bad there were no playoffs for most of that run.  In the famous words of Ricky Bobby (and the Major Leagues at that time), “If your not first, your last!”

The only thing that makes me shutter a bit in regards to this teams future is the lack of pitching, either at the MLB level or in the minors.   The Cubs don’t seem to have a pitcher that registers as a true ace in the making.  If you don’t believe me check out Norm’s post on our Minor League pitching prospects…the cupboard is pretty bare.  You can’t win a championship with a staff of 4′s and 5′s.

I want to believe that Almora, Baez, Soler, Jackson, Rizzo, and Castro will make for wonderful lineups in the years to come but history, and common baseball sense, makes me say….wake me when we get more pitching.

 

 

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Game 128: A Stinker

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

 

Brewers 4 Cubs 1

Box / Highlights

 

I originally intended to post this first thing but my dog was sprayed by a skunk this morning in the wee hours and the day sort of unraveled from there.  My apologies to all the faithful readers.

This game, as has been the case with many Cubs games of late, was less than entertaining.   It was the annual “Len and Bob hang out in the bleachers with the common folk”  game, and that was the extent of the entertainment.  Bob marveled at the Budweiser bottom filling beer tap contraption and Len bantered about the beauty of sitting in the bleachers.  All in all, it was the usual shtick in a slightly different setting, with the word Budweiser thrown in about 50 times per inning.  The sponsor got there moneys worth last night.  The bleachers were very empty as were the terrace seats and, well, most of the ballpark.  Here is some of the good and bad those in attendance and watching at home were able to witness….

The Good:

  • Travis Wood was okay on the mount last night.  He went seven innings and gave up five hits and three runs.  
  • Travis Wood was good at the plate last night.  He hit a homerun, his first in a Cub uniform.
  • The cameramen were especially cognizant of the attractive ladies in the stands for this game.  It seemed that every time they broke for a little tour of the ballpark or bleachers (happened a lot considering last nights broadcast from the bleachers) they managed to fill the screen with busty women.   
  • Luis Valbuena is trying his hardest to keep a job…..at least defensively.  He made two diving stabs down the line and threw both runners out. 

The Bad:

  • Rizzo struck out three times and looks to be struggling with the slow off speed stuff lately. 
  • The only runs Travis Wood gave up came off a three run bomb by none other than Jeff Bianchi.  Who? Oh yah him, of the baseball Bianchi’s!
  • The Cubs struck out 11 times last night.  Len rattled off a stat in the ninth regarding Cub strikeout totals against the Brewers this year.  It was something like 62 strikeouts in five games.  Somebody please tell me that is wrong.
  • The cubs have dropped 12 of 15 to the Brewers this year.  The Cubs still lead the all-time series 117-116 though, so we have that going for us. 

Watching the Cubs right now is a lot like watching spring training.  It seems like everybody is working on something.  Half the batters that stepped up to the plate last night came with the cavaet from Bob that they were working on something or making adjustments.  Such is life when you have a team full of youngsters. 

That’s about all I have for this gem.  Now, off to figure out how to get that damn skunk smell out of my nose, clothes, and house.

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Chet’s Corner: Wins, Darwin Barney, and Crash Davis

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A quick glance at the schedule….

With 47 games left and mercy waiting around the corner, I felt the need to engage in the guessing game of total wins for this team.   It seems we have seven games left against each team in the central with the exception of the Cardinals, whom we play three more times at home.  We then have six against the Rockies, four against the Nats, and three each against the Giants and D-Backs.  Of the 47 games left, 24 are home games, where we are a marginally better team. 

So, my guess is going to sit around 17 more wins for a total of 62.   Yes, this puts us at 100 losses on the nose.  With our current lack of starting pitching and inconsistent offense, I think it will be a miracle to eclipse this number.  If I was a betting man I would take the under.  What about you?

Is Darwin Barney the future at second?

Since the departure of Ryne Sandberg second base has sort of been the new third base in the Cubs organization.  No, the gap has not been as wide as Santo to Ramirez but nevertheless it starts to leave Cub fans wondering when the next, well, Sandberg may come along.

My days as a Cub fan started back in the 80′s, I can still remember thinking young players like Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton would send the club into the stratosphere of multiple World Series births.  I moved to Chicago in 1997, Ryne’s last season, and witnessed first hand the transition to Mickey “The Mullet” Morandini.  The beautiful flowing rear flap hid the fact that Mickey was a temporary solution to the two bag problem.  He wasn’t awful by any means but he was nearing the end of his ten year career and his best days were back in Philly.  Over the years this led to names like Eric Young, Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot and a smattering of players in between.  Nobody has really held down the position for longer than a two year period.

This all brings us to the 127th overall pick of the 2007 draft, where the Cubs selected a youngster by the name of Darwin Barney.   On first inspection he drove me crazy.  First off, he chewed his gum like a hooker in a bad 80′s movie.  He also has a strut of sorts that leads you to believe there is some ego burried in that tiny frame.  All of this, coupled with the fact that he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his September call up back in 2010, made some view Barney as the next player floating through the second base turnstile.

Fast forward to 2012 and you have what could be a mainstay at second, providing Darwin does what he has done since his first full season in 2011, which is hit for a decent average and field with consistency.  For the season, Fangraphs shows him currently leading his position in fielding based on the ever debatable UZR stat ( 10.2, which is followed up by Dustin Ackley with an 8.9) and they rank him in the top ten best hitting second baseman based on WAR  (.269/.310/.389 WAR 2.4 tied with Altuve, Pedroia, and Uggla).  He should also manage to improve his BB/K ratio year over year, already matching his 2011 total for walks with his K’s at almost half their 2011 total, which wasn’t disastrous to begin with for 2011.

My question is this, why the lack of love for Darwin Barney?  It seems Cubbie Nation is ready to cast him off and welcome a new model.  I lump myself into this group to a degree.  Until the past two months or so barney struck me as dispensable.  When the non-waver trade deadline approached nobody in Wrigleyville backed Barney as a building block for the future.  How do we know he won’t be as valuable to our future as guys like Castro or Rizzo, names that come across as untouchable?  Other then consistent power, which is an uncommon trait for second baseman, what is Barney lacking?

 

A Quote for the week:

I have found very few examples better then this quote from the movie Bull Durham, that show the small chasm between being a great hitter and a mediocre hitter……

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is?  It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.

– Crash Davis

 

 

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Chet’s Corner: Countdown To Extinction

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

The Dodgers have a deal in place…..no, the Yankees have a deal in place…wait, whats that, the Rangers have a deal in place!  At one point yesterday I began to wonder if any of the rumored deals were actually on the table.  Jim Bowden, former GM of the Cincinnati Reds now ESPN analyst, was tweeting near deal consummations like an auctioneer calls out bids.   The trade deadline has taken on a new chaos and it’s called social media… and I find it fun.

With one fell swoop, the entire Jim Hendry experiment came a few clicks from exploding into little pieces.  There isn’t a single Cub left from 2004 season.  By my count,  the only ones left from the 2007 season are Marmol and Soriano.  The same Soriano that almost, supposedly, maybe was going to be traded to the Tigers in the waning moments of the deadline.  We wouldn’t be so lucky.

I know, I know, Sori has been productive, but not $17 million/year productive.  I keep wondering how many of these “mega-deals” are left to be had in this sport?  Pujols certainly hasn’t lived up to his billing in LA and Prince has been good , but not break the bank good!  Jayson Werth and his play share very little in common with his pay and then there is Carl Crawford, whose contract Theo is still getting skewered over in beantown.  It’s hard to commit the money to a player these days and expect equal production.

This whole Dempster mess coming up to the trade deadline, and I speak of the mess with the Braves, brings up another interesting twist to contracts and value.  The idea of allowing a player to gain 10-5 rights will now rank up there with the no-trade clause as a mistake in my book.  How does Ryan Dempster, ye of average pitching ability, get 10-5 rights?  Yes, I said average, which is exactly what he is.  To this point Ryan should be seen as a steady, but not great, starting pitcher.  A plug-in for a team needing a number 4 guy.  Okay, maybe he is a 3 on a depleted staff, what I am trying to say is 10-5 rights should be reserved for stars or elite players.  Guys like this need to be movable for a team going nowhere and in no way, should a player of Dempster’s caliber, call the shots when it comes time to being traded.  He just isn’t that good.  I am sure he is a great person, and I am even more sure that this puts a wrinkle in his family life, but the millions he makes should cushion the fall.

To the Rangers fans I tell you this, you got a decent pitcher who is at the top of his game.  He will be a good clubhouse guy for the two months you have him.  We like to call him “Contract Year Dempster” for obvious reasons.  He will not carry you to the promise land, but I see you getting one game in the win column out of this deal.  I think it was a good deal for both sides.

As for Cubs fans, the countdown to the end of the Tribune/Zell/Hendry era is almost at zero.  It’s like watching the ball drop on New Years Eve when you’ve had a particularly rough year.  I can see all the bad contracts,  no trade clauses, and lack of organizational development receding on the horizon, making way for change…..am I right Theo?

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