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Nats take series, but sweep was there for the taking

Aug 21, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT


The Nationals, as was noted here at the start of the week, probably need to win two out of every three games they play the rest of the season to win the NL East title. It may not require quite that many wins, or it may even require a few more. But taking 2-of-3 the rest of the way at least puts them in strong position to make the postseason.

So in some respects, a win Thursday night in Denver would’ve been gravy. The Nationals already had taken the first two games of their series with the Rockies, at least temporarily righting their wayward ship, so regardless they were going to come happy at the end of an otherwise brutal West Coast trip.

Except for one teeny little fact: Thursday’s game was so there for the taking, and the Nats gave it away.

Their 3-2 loss at Coors Field was among the more frustrating losses in a season full of them. They somehow lost a Max Scherzer-Yohan Flande pitching matchup. Flande somehow got two hits off Scherzer, including a 2-out infield chopper in the bottom of the sixth that brought home a run. Then they somehow managed not to plate at least one run off a Colorado bullpen that had only given up 30 runs over its last 18 innings.

And so this ultimately felt more like a letdown than an encouraging three days in the thin mountain air. Yes, the Nationals did what they were supposed to do. They took 2-of-3. But, man, were they close to taking 3-of-3 and really starting to put some pressure on the Mets.

Let’s focus on perhaps the two most significant moments of the game: The Rockies scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh off Blake Treinen, and the Nationals failing to score the tying run in the ninth off John Axford…

That bottom of the seventh was tense, because Matt Williams was trying to keep the game tied against the heart of the Colorado lineup while using a couple of less-experienced, less-trusted members of his much maligned bullpen.

After Scherzer gave up a leadoff single to Jose Reyes, Williams emerged from the dugout, signaling for Felipe Rivero. The lefty reliever’s task: Merely get one of the game’s best and hottest hitters, Carlos Gonzalez, out in a huge spot. And Rivero almost did it, getting Gonzalez to hit a groundball to the left side of the infield. Except that groundball was perfectly placed near the third-base line, well to the left of Yunel Escobar’s position.

So now with two on, nobody out and the right-handed Nolan Arenado at the plate, Williams again strolled to the mound, this time to summon Blake Treinen, whose inconsistencies this season have been well-noted. This immediately led to a backlash from fans who wanted a more-reliable right-hander for this spot: Casey Janssen or Drew Storen.

Here’s the problem: Janssen had pitched the previous two nights. He hasn’t pitched three straight nights at all this season, and so he was unavailable. Storen, meanwhile, was being saved for whatever situation might still arise before this game was over, whether the eighth inning, the ninth or perhaps even something beyond that.

Besides, isn’t Treinen supposed to be able to get those kind of outs? Well, actually he did. Treinen fooled Arenado with a high slider on a 1-2 count and struck him out. He just couldn’t get the next guy, the left-handed Ben Paulsen, who blooped an RBI single to shallow center, giving the Rockies a lead they would not relinquish.

Treinen’s struggles against lefties are well-known. So why let him face a lefty? Because Matt Thornton, the only other available southpaw in the Nationals’ bullpen, needed to be saved for later (that turned out to be the bottom of the eighth).

Look, as much as you think you want your manager to play matchups in a big situation, you really can’t burn up three relievers in the seventh inning of a tie game on Aug. 20, at the end of a long road trip with no off-day before a long homestand begins the following night. There is a bigger picture that needs to be taken into consideration, and that’s often the toughest thing for outsiders to accept.

Even if the bullpen decisions worked, it still couldn’t have overcome the fact the Nationals couldn’t score the other run necessary to win this game.

They had their chance in the top of the ninth, when Bryce Harper led off with a sharp single up the middle off Axford, owner of four blown saves in the last 30 days alone. Unfortunately, the Nationals never made contact again in the game. And it’s tough to drive home the tying run when you fail to make contact once.

Some credit, though, needs to go to Axford, especially for the surprise 3-2 curveball he threw to Escobar for the first out of the inning, a perfectly placed pitch on the inside corner that caught Escobar completely by surprise.

Ian Desmond had less of a quality at-bat moments later, striking out on a 91-mph slider right at the top of the strike zone, but Ryan Zimmerman battled through a 7-pitch plate appearance to draw a 2-out walk and give Michael Taylor a chance with the tying runner in scoring position.

Taylor had wowed everybody in attendance two innings earlier when he crushed a baseball 493 feet to the left of center field, the longest home run hit in the major leagues this season, according to MLB’s StatCast system. All that was needed this time, though, was a single that would’ve scored Harper and tied the game.

Taylor wasn’t able to do that. He battled himself, fouling off a couple of pitches, but couldn’t connect with a high, 97-mph on a 2-2 count and thus ended the game in disappointing fashion.

As Taylor stood there for a moment, eyes closed, you sensed he realized he missed a golden opportunity to deliver a series sweep to the Nationals.

That’s probably how everybody felt at the end of a frustrating night at the end of a still-promising series at the end of a very frustrating road trip.

  1. Sam - Aug 21, 2015 at 6:14 AM

    The whole idea of saving your best relievers for later situations is idiotic. You should NEVER lose a close game with your best relievers sitting in the bullpen (unless they are not available that day). It’s inexcusable. What possible better time was Williams waiting for? Tie game in the 7th inning with 2 men on base and no outs? If that doesn’t get your adrenaline running, you don’t deserve to pitch in the 8th or 9th or ever. Pitching out of THAT situation helps teams win games; pitching in the 8th or 9th with a lead…ehh, big deal. Any reliever should be able to hold a lead.

    The “hold” and the “save” have earned relievers tebs of millions of dollars and RUINED managers’ abilities to manage a bullpen properly. It’s unbelievable. Tell me if this makes sense to anyone: I think it’s a good idea to use my 4th best resource in the most important situation to date with low probability of a more important situation occurring later so I can save my better guys for potential use in those situations with a low probability of occurring. It makes sense in no context, and managers in other professions would be fired on the spot.

    • Sam - Aug 21, 2015 at 6:15 AM

      Having said that, I still thought we were going to lose last night. The Rockies ML looked so tempting (I think I saw it at +180 or something crazy), but I would never bet against my own team.

  2. homeparkdc - Aug 21, 2015 at 6:25 AM

    Thanks, Mark, for your analysis, and perhaps preventing several comments about bullpen management.
    About the current number of posters, I’d like to say that many, many Nats’ fans read your reports faithfully and the comments (maybe, sometimes, always, depending). Gradually, new posters will join.

  3. Miamidad38 - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    I’m embarrassed to say

    I root a team who just got filleted

    By a pitcher who’s name is


    I never get his name right, but why would I want to.

    • natsfan1a - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:22 AM

      Now, that’s funny. 🙂

  4. alexva6 - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:11 AM

    Mark, while I agree with your reasoning on the bullpen mgmt. the storyline for this game is two hits other than Harper.

    the 1,2,4,5 hitters going 1-16 with the only hit being a two out single spells doom unless all else goes right. the pitchers all battled and pitched well enough to win most nights, they were let down by the hitters, Bryce and MAT excepted

    • chapjim - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      Almost looked like a playoff game, didn’t it?

  5. kiawah51 - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    Look, they teased us for 2 days against one of the worst teams in baseball. Then they reverted to the norm. That being not being able to get hits off a blow average pitcher with a 2-7 record and 4.6 era. They are who they are. The swings and misses against Mr. Flambe were a joke, however, we’ve seen this comedy for over 100 games. Can’t hit the best pitchers in baseball and can barely hit the Harens, Flambes and other sub 500 pitchers.

    Oh Mike, when will you ever get some professional hitters.

    • bowdenball - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:15 AM

      Am I gonna do this every day?

      The Nats hung big numbers on Matt Harvey and Madison Bumgarner literally last month (July 4 and July 20, I believe). Either you’ve already forgotten about games that occurred very recently, you don’t consider those guys to be the among the best pitchers in baseball, or you’ve only been a Nats fan for a month. Whichever it is, you probably shouldn’t be pretending you have a clue as to what this team is or is not.

  6. ArVAFan - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    I wish the game had been earlier, or that they’d have a day off today to sleep in. Flying overnight to arrive home at 6 a.m. (per Bryce’s tweet) is not a recipe for a good night at the ballpark (or any other type of workday, for that matter). I’ll be there tonight (and tomorrow), but my expectations are tempered by the knowledge that sleep deprivation may contribute to TOOTBLANs, booted balls, and other forehead-smack moments. I hope they get that out of their system in one game, though, and don’t let that hang over into the next one.

    • alexva6 - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:43 AM

      I’d assume they sent Gio home early. he’s been good at home this year so let’s hope he carries the load.

      • veejh - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:12 AM

        They did.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:30 AM

        Glad to hear that. I had also made that assumption, but never heard it mentioned on the MASN broadcasts.

      • NatsLady - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        FP mentioned it. Talked about Gio getting “home cooking” etc.

    • Joe Seamhead - Aug 21, 2015 at 7:56 AM

      Well, ArVaFan, I’m going tonight, also, but the mixed blessing for me is that I had intended to go up to Hagerstown last night to watch Span, Uggla, and several promising young Low A player. The bad news is that the game got postponed because of severe storms. The good news is we decided early not to chance the weather, so I got just enough sleep. As for the Nats, I think MLB screwed them over with the late game, but hey, that’s part of the job description, and no, I disagree with you as far as it being used as an excuse for fore-head smack moments. These boys have reached crunch time and they need to suck it up and go out there and eat some face tonight!

      • nats106 - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:00 AM

        Yeah hopefully they won’t be playing like zombies. And if they are, fear the walking dead.

      • ArVAFan - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:11 AM

        Joe, I’ll be at the back of 313, wearing my shirt, so if you want to stop by and say hello, I’d love to see you.

        And I will be delighted, with my rowdy friends in 313, to cheer them on tonight, tomorrow, and until the end (whenever that turns out to be).

        To nats106: Werth as a zombie is a truly scary thought. And all Bryce needs is a little more of that face paint he uses–he could just scare the opposing pitcher into a wild pitch or a balk. I like the image!

      • nats106 - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:19 AM

        “Werth as a zombie is a truly scary thought” I couldn’t agree more.

        haha-maybe he’ll get a guest appearance on the Walking Dead

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:26 AM

        We’ll try to stop by to see you in 313,AVF. We’ll be up in your neck of the woods tonight.

  7. Another_Sam - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    I’m not a GM or a manager, and I’ve never played one on TV — but occasionally I have played both on blogs like this one.

    Right on, above: the story for me once again is low single digits in the hit totals. recent very low hit totals are inflated — if that’s possible — by meaningless hits late in the game when the game is already in the books. Sigh.

    Now for my pretending to be a GM or manager: Is it too early to start playing every game like it’s a playoff game? Bring on the quick hook, I say. Seems to me that the bullpen is now overflowing with reliable late game pitchers and it surely got me down to see the TV pictures of two stellar guys warming up in the ninth inning as the game was slipping away into history.

  8. JayB - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    Mark’s BP rationalization is BS…Got to win games….one at a time….saving pitchers for later in the week? Who the hell knows what the score of the game will be on Sunday….just plain stupid….and why MW is the worst manager in baseball and why this team will never win anything….even the beat writers will rush to make excuses for bad basebal, bad managing and bad roster management…..amazing…just so Rizzo and MW do not get made at you Mark? That food in the Press Box is not that good….I have seen it…..Sad that you have sold out.

    • alexva6 - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:23 AM

      sorry JayB, you’re out of line here.

      if you want to direct your anger at the suspect bullpen and MW’s management of same fine. Marks points are valid and the fact of the matter is the pitchers used did not implode or pitch poorly. the game was tied and there appeared to be no reason to think the Nats would score again.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:30 AM

        I agree with you, alexva6. Another Sam and JayB basically said the same thing as far as game management, but Sam’s delivery has the smell of a sweet country morning, and JayB’s reeks of horse dung.

        And JayB? It’s rude to come into someone’s house and spew insults at the host.

      • alexva6 - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:49 AM

        too bad on the Suns rainout, there was a good chance you would have seen Andrew Lee last night. a high schooler in low A doing pretty well.

    • veejh - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:31 AM

      Meh….it’s not like Storen has been any good lately. We needed hits and runs and failed against garbage pitching.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:34 AM

        Agree on your bottom line. The Nats held Colorado to three runs, well below NL average, esp. for games in Denver. If you can’t score more than 2 runs at Coors, the responsibility lies with the hitters, not the pitching staff.

  9. Another_Sam - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    BTW, I’m with you, MZ, and I totally get it.

  10. scnatsfan - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:31 AM

    Still, I think you get Paplebon to free Storen for an inning like we faced last night. Sure Treinen might lose it in the 8th but better to get there tied then be behind by one. As usual, MW goes to the book and does what it says.

  11. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    Pitchers like Flambe are the reason Little League has the mercy rule. Somebody on this blog, a couple of days ago, defended the indefensible, saying the Nats’ contact rate is no worse than most teams’. The point is that they are a swing and miss team who can’t find ways to score runs when they aren’t slugging. Last night another example. Nobody who actually watches them (instead of “analyzes”) can deny the evidence.

    (Has anybody noticed that “analyze” appears to have the same root as “anal-retentive”? Not all analysis is bad but some of it is “lies, damn lies and statistics.”)

    • nats106 - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:57 AM

      haha. and how true. Statistics can be driven to prove or support whatever point you want to make. The real evidence is in performance and the final judge, jury and executioner is called a W/L record. That’s the only stat that really matters. Nobody remembers contact rate of a 500 team.

    • bowdenball - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:23 AM

      That was me.

      The 2015 Nats are 23rd out of 30 teams in contact rate. Three of the teams below them would be in the playoffs if they started today, and a fourth would be close. The two teams with the highest contact rates are both well below .500, although the #3 team has the best record in the AL. The 2015 Nats also have a higher contact rate than the 2012 Nats.

      Those are facts. They are not a defense, because there’s nothing to defend. That they don’t fit what your eyes tell you is the whole point. People- and especially passionate sports fans- are vulnerable to biases. Fans of almost every team in the league things that their team doesn’t score runners from 3rd with less than 2 outs enough. Fans of almost every team in the league think that their bullpen is shaky. Fans of every team in the league think that their manager makes terrible in game decisions. That’s what fandom does to us- we remember the failures because they sting and forget the successes because they don’t. Facts aren’t vulnerable to that bias, that’s why people use them.

      And I resent your obviously flawed assumption that people who cite statistics and do “analysis” don’t actually watch the games. I watch the games AND I look at the statistics and analysis. You only do one of the two. Who is more well-informed- the guy who watches AND looks at the numbers, or the guy who only watches?

      • Section 222 - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:08 AM

        Your questions answer themselves bb. You are a fan, but are also one of the best informed and most dispassionate “analysts” on this blog. I’ll take your take over the commenter to whom you responded any day of the week.

        Now, nats106 is clearly right that in the end W/L record is the only thing that matters. One thing your analysis shows is that “contact rate” doesn’t bear much relationship to the success of team. Some statistical analysis can explain why that record is headed in one direction or another, and some is pretty meaningless. You do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:37 AM

        +1 to bb and 222.

      • nats106 - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        One final point I’d like to make on the contact rate thing-if you don’t hustle down the line, contact rate doesn’t help a team. I am referring to the Escobar grounder that Arenado hit in yesterday’s game. You get what? 4 opportunities in a game to get on base? Keep in mind I’m not criticizing Escobar as a lot of players do that, but there are a lot of variables that go into all statistics.

        That being said, Bowdenball, if any resentment is directed towards me, I understand and appreciate what you are saying. I think the comments you make are valuable (certainly more valuable than mine) but I would also defend any further commentary on the subject at hand. Unfortunately some of the potential hard feelings on this board are somewhat reflective of what has been thus far a surprising year to the downside.

      • bowdenball - Aug 21, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        Thanks, guys.

        This team has underperformed expectations so far by a significant amount. I would never say otherwise. My criticism is people who think that they have identified the one reason or a handful of reasons for it. There are so many people and skill sets and good and bad breaks that go into a team’s W-L record. You can win if you swing and miss a lot and you can lose if you make contact all the time. You can win if you run the bases poorly and lose if you run them well. You can win even if your starting pitchers fail to meet expectations and succeed even if they don’t. It’s a complicated picture.

        That’s why most of my posts here are dedicated to debunking the theories of others rather than offering up my own. I have my own theories as to why they’re under-performing, but it would take more room than I have here to write it all up!

  12. Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 21, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    I had no issues with the way the BP was handled last night.

    I had issues with how Scherzer pitched to Flande.
    Also had issues with how/why the defensive postioning with Yuni and Desi (why waa Yuni so far over) on the pitch/at by CarGo.
    And of course, how do the Nats only score 2 runs against Flande…. big fail right there.

    • dcwx61 - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:13 AM

      yes…frustrating…the cubs scored only two runs against Flande a couple weeks ago but yeah, disappointing

  13. Joe Seamhead - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    “And of course, how do the Nats only score 2 runs against Flande…. big fail right there.”

    Ding! Ding! Ding! We got a winner.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:18 AM


    • bowdenball - Aug 21, 2015 at 9:55 AM

      Flande pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings at home vs Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels last month. He had a five inning one-run outing against the Cubs three weeks ago.

      I don’t think we had a very good approach at the plate last night, but let’s not act like this is some sort of unprecedented failure and that we were facing the worst pitcher in the history of baseball. He has a 3.94 ERA even though half his innings are at Coors Field. He’s not putting it on a tee for these guys.

      • Steady Eddie - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:22 AM

        Good reminder that I he performance wasn’t quite as abject as some would have it, but 3 hits and no multiple base runners in any inning is less concerted offense than they had against Grienke in LA, who had to pitch out of some jams. When we were winning in August last year we found a way to get it done, and we will have to do it more consistently than every other game if we’re going to dig out of this hole.

        Re Scherzer, Mrs. B had a point above re Flande’s first AB that is occasionally troublesome about Scherzer — he has an arrogance that can be his undoing where craftiness would serve him better. Throwing an 0-2 heater (for the third consecutive pitch) right in the zone when you have a bad batter set up for a chase pitch is what led directly to the Rockies’ first run, and almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without it. Not dissimilar to what he did against Tabata in the should-have-been perfecto when he threw him four straight heaters — all of which were fouled off — before he threw the fatal slider (acknowledging the dipped elbow made the HBP call somewhat BS). He does that frequently and it runs up his pitch count which raises all the issues about overuse — Scherzer is now the NL leader in innings pitched. Tempering arrogance with craftiness may be the difference between a really good pitcher who proves vulnerable more than he should be, and a historically great pitcher.

      • NatsLady - Aug 21, 2015 at 11:15 AM

        Eddie, you put your finger on something I’ve felt for a while but haven’t said, there is an arrogance about Scherzer that can be his downfall. In my case, it was him brushing off bad outings, until finally he had enough of them that he HAD to examine his mechanics.

        Stras, of course, is the opposite, that guy is always examining, to the point where he’s gotten paralyzed with thinking too much–either about his own flaws or his teammates’. These last few weeks, it seems like there’s been a major change in Stras in that he plays the game, keeps the game going. You have to do that, and save the analysis for later.

        But later doesn’t mean NEVER. Max should have been on his own case after the very first bad outing. (You wonder if McCatty spotted any issue, and if he did, whether he said anything to him, or tried to and got blown off.) When the race is this close, a “sense of urgency” requires that you look into every issue, not wait until it happens two or three times. I sincerely hope that McCatty and Williams are not intimidated by Scherzer.

        With regard to Flande–I thought the same about Vogelsong. Looking at his record and his ERA, why couldn’t we get to him? Then he went and had another excellent outing after the Nats’ series, six shutout innings against the Cards, no less. So you can’t always look at a guy’s ERA (his was 4.26 at the time) and say, we got this one. Vogelsong is not a exactly a young man, maybe he’s healthier now than when he got “demoted” to the bullpen. Maybe the month he spent there got him a little rest, or maybe he worked out a few things. But we should have split the series and I’m still aggravated about that.

  14. scnatsfan - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    Lets be serious though… winning a series on the road was huge for this team. Still work to do, maybe Rendon can find his bat.

  15. natsdial8 - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Winning every remaining series ( Mets excluded of course) may or may not work . Fact is they need to rip off a nice win streak maybe 6, 8 plus in a row .

    Also at this point 4 out getting near September EVERY game is really vital and I feel MW shouldnt be saving the bullpen . i would have went Storen 7th & 8th . Ask him for 4 or 5 outs when critically needed. Heading East out only 3 was possible .

  16. jd - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    To say that BP management wasn’t the key last night would be wrong. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get many hits or many runs really because in the bottom of the 7th the score was tied. Not many managers approach the game this way but to me in a tie game late you should manage your bullpen backwards, in other words use your relievers from best to worst in an effort to extend the game until your offense can scratch out a couple of runs.

    Clearly the defining moment in yesterday’s game happened in the bottom of the 7th, the Rockies were in the middle of their very good lineup with runners on base and the game needed to be ‘saved’ right there. I don’t agree with the concept of holding pitchers out for later situations which may never happen.

  17. Doc - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    Axford with the 4.66 ERA has a 99 mph heater, but not much else, showed uncharacteristic control last night. He had lost his Closer job over the past month.

    It’s baseball and it happens. Still think that the Nats are back on track. Now if Tony Two-Bags would just step up to the plate along with Ramos.

  18. Doc - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    Rock’s announcers said that Mickey T.’s shot was 493 feet, and the longest HR at Coors since Mike Piazza hit one back in the stone age.

    A lot of big hitters have smacked them at Coors since then. Way to gooooooooooooo, MAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. abqnatsfan - Aug 21, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    It was a winnable game. Nice they won the first two, but those were in the rear view mirror, so losing last night in a game that was winnable even in the 9th is disappointing. But it happens and it was far from their worst recent performance.

    Now, the homestand is in front and doing well and gaining some ground is important. There were some good signs the last three nights that maybe they can turn in a run of better and improving play. Especially if Span is close.

  20. mauimo22 - Aug 21, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    60 wins, 60 losses. Fair to say this team is a disappointment with their under-performance.
    Good teams have clutch players and find a way to win, especially against sub par teams.
    Anyone know what their record would be if they scored at least 5 runs per game?

  21. NatsLady - Aug 21, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    The Nats have an exactly average offense at this point: 100 wRC+ (7th in the NL), .727 OPS (9th in the NL). That’s for the full season. The Mets are last in both categories.

    Looking at the last month (i.e., since the trade deadline when the Mets made some improvements), the Nats are still approximately average, 99 wRC+ (10th in the NL), .716 OPS (also 10th).

    But the Mets have moved way up. 113 wRC+ (6th in the NL) and .770 OPS (5th).

    You can play with this table to see where I got the figures.





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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