21 Games In; (Re)Visiting Two Early Storylines

With today’s 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies have now played 21 games in 2018, which means we are somehow already through about an eighth of the season.  Hard to believe, Harry.

At 8-2 in their last 10 games and 13-3 since their embarrassing showings vs. Atlanta and New York to start the season, there are few teams in baseball hotter than the Phillies.  Now, with almost a month’s worth of games on record, let’s look at a pair of the key Phillies storylines from Spring Training and the early regular season.

Gabe Kapler Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing

The elephant in the room for at least the first 3 or 4 series of this season.  You know what happened in Atlanta.  In terms of baseball-specific catastrophes, you probably can’t do worse than having to use a position player to pitch in the 3rd game of the season.  His bullpen usage was questionable at best.  If it wasn’t his choice of when to pull starters or swap relievers, it was his choice of relievers themselves that prompted much ire, including my own (I’m of the mind that Hoby Milner shouldn’t pitch in any situation whatsoever, regardless of whether or not he’s warmed up, but as he’s now in AAA, it’s neither here nor there).

Here’s the thing: Gabe Kapler is a rookie.  Like all rookies, he has a learning curve.  We’ll excuse Scott Kingery striking out at least twice in 6 games already this season because he’s a rookie and struggles are to be expected.  Same goes for a guy getting his first taste of coaching above the Single-A level.

What will determine whether he’s a success or a failure is his ability to change.  Philly’s starting pitchers are going deep into ballgames, routinely getting near or above 100 pitches.  Aaron Nola hasn’t thrown fewer than 6 innings since April 4th.  Vinny Velasquez doesn’t have a single start(!) go fewer than 6 innings since his opening-series meltdown.  Even Ben Lively, bless him, has pitched into the 6th three out of four starts, and with a serviceable 4.64 ERA (3.66 FIP) he’s comparatively been far-and-away their worst starter so far.

Whether the starters’ respective leashes getting longer is a function of Kapler learning or if it’s just because he thinks they’re better stretched out than in, say, their 1st starts of the season, the result is the same.

Right Field is a Battle Between Altherr & Williams

Ugh.  If you can call it a battle, sure.  At this point, Altherr and Williams are both standing in front of an open door and both insisting that the other walk through first.  Altherr today went 3-3 with the game-winning RBI single to raise his average to .175.  It was his first multi-hit game of the season.  Williams has hardly been better, at .217.  With Altherr’s big day at the plate today factored in, Williams now only holds a .004 edge in OPS.  Altherr is still clearly the better glove, having accrued 0.3 dWAR as opposed to Williams’ -0.3

There’s no answer here that will inspire the masses.  Here’s my take: if a .250 hitter batted .250 no matter what context or circumstances he found himself in, that’d be great.  However, we know that’s not how all baseball players are.  For example, Jimmy Rollins had a .171 batting average as a substitute player (not necessarily just pinch-hit one-and-done’s, but batting in a game that he didn’t start).

Now, Williams and Altherr don’t necessarily follow the same suit.  In just 13 career PAs as a sub, Williams has an impressive .463 batting average with a 1.231 OPS.  Altherr in 35 PAs inversely has a .148 average with a .750 OPS.  Both are limited sample sizes though, especially given how both have mainly started before this year, and only this spring have been asked to come off the bench quite a bit.

However, Williams has started 4 games this year the day after only getting 1 AB in the game prior.  He has a hit in just one of those games, and is 1-12 overall.  It’s a small sample size, but how many at-bats and how much developmental time will the Phillies waste before they decide whether or not Williams can be an everyday starting outfielder?

Altherr is more mind-boggling because I’m less-confident that his struggles are merely a symptom of not starting every day.  He’s been bad, regardless of the role or game before.  With his 3 hits off the bench today, he has now hit in back-to-back games for the first time all season.  Williams, comparatively, has already had an 8-game hitting streak.  Altherr has played in some form in all but 2 games but struggled in basically all but three of them.

Having two young outfielders who are producing who you need to find playing time for is a good problem to have.  However, the Phillies are currently trying to find playing time for two outfielders who look utterly lost half the time at the plate.

If this has ended up sounding like a pro-Williams rant, that’s partially because it is.  Especially now, I think he gives you the better chance for production.  What I want to see, in whichever order, is for both of these young outfielders to start for, say, a week straight.  They know they’re in the lineup.  The other will ride the bench and serve whatever role the team asks.  If one of them takes advantage of the extended opportunity and starts heating up, there’s your problem solved.

The response to that is, “How is that fair to whichever one isn’t starting that week?”  It’s not fair.  Maybe both would drastically improve by starting every day, but there’s nobody else in the lineup who deserves to sit in order to create more playing opportunities.  Herrera and Hoskins are your other OFs and your top-2 hitters.  Even Carlos Santana, with his .151 average, has reached base in all but two games (meaning no Hoskins-to-first, Santana-to-bench).  While it may not be fair to effectively bench Williams or Altherr for a week, it would be even less so to take time away from anyone else.

The sooner the Phillies find a way to get the best player in the lineup on a starting basis (or find someone else to put in that’ll outperform the current status quo), the better.  What’s going on right now simply isn’t working.  If the Phillies find an answer to this problem, they’ll suddenly have another strength in the middle a lineup that has hit its way to a 14-7 record.

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  1. Walt

    April 23, 2018 01:06 PM


    Phils are in a rebuild. Team must have a .500 season to be one year from contention if you review baseball history on rebuilds. So, assume 2020 is the year to contend. The answer is simple by definition. Play the kids. Put the man from the Indians in a pinch hit slot. This acquisition may have been premature. Move Hoskins to first. Also, get another backstop prospect to the big club pronto so a better picture can form in preparation for 2020. It would be nice if the Phils would teach bunting for a base hit so when the kids run into contact problems they have a back-up stategy to keep defenses off balance. This article is talking like Phils might contend now. That is expecting alot considering what happened last year. The Arrieta acquisition for this year is a head scratcher with so many young arms still to be tested. It seems like the objective for Arrieta is to help attendance numbers.

    • jackm

      April 23, 2018 01:59 PM


      • Steve

        April 23, 2018 06:59 PM

        Based on his comments from the last two posts, I’m thinking there is a troll among us….

    • Steve

      April 23, 2018 07:02 PM

      The 2015 Cubs and Astros would begin to differ that a team must put together a .500 season the before they can contend for the playoffs.

      • Steve

        April 23, 2018 07:02 PM

        Beg to differ*

    • Bernie Cohen

      April 24, 2018 03:53 PM

      What you are saying totally disregards what is happening this season so far. Arrieta was a great acquisition who has already made this team better. Can’t say the same for Santana yet, but he certainly has a track record, and with 30 million invested, he gets to play and will get better. Don’t understand why a team which was so bad last year has to wait another year to get better.. I am Ok with skipping the 500 year and getting to the playoffs this year ((Aren’t you?). The Altherr/Williams situation will sort itself out. One will get hot, or one will get hurt.

    • Romus

      April 24, 2018 07:08 PM

      Walt….congrats….you broke my record for total ‘negatives’ for a post.
      I will need to come up with something to recapture my record.

      • Walt

        April 25, 2018 02:15 AM

        Romus: The truth hurts. Fans want to believe their team is the best. How many of these fans have over 70 years of perspective? You seem like an open minded dude. If you have some extra time; take a look at the vector matrices for the Curt Simmons transaction to St. Louis in 1960. Curt went 18-9 in 1964 and effectively this Whiz Kid cost the Phils the ’64 pennant as he went 2-0 vs. Phils and Cards took season series 13-5! Take a study of the vector matrices for the Culp for Ellsworth deal, the Lonborg for Don Money deal, the Ferguson Jenkins for Buhl and Larry Jackson deal, the Carlton for Wise deal, the Bunning for Demeter deal. Understand how the Phils gifted Cards, how Phils gifted Cubs twice and now probably three times, how Cards gifted Phils, how Brewers gifted Phils and now how Phils gifted Arrieta, Santana, Neshek and Hunter. How do the new Whiz Kids on current roster view these new four mega dollar men? Has morale and motivation and other intangibles been deleteriously slanted? This current rebuild has now been put in jeopardy because the current management has not even studied their own 1950 Whiz Kid group dynamics. Instead of bowing down to the Boras’ of the world; the Phil’s brass may wish to hire a top organizational/industrial psychologist to assist. Just because they throw money around because it overflows their banks does not mean success. Do you realize that Arrieta makes 30mil this season, Santana 20mil, Neshek 7.75mil and Hunter 9mil? Will the ROI be acceptable?

      • Romus

        April 25, 2018 09:09 AM

        Walt….from what I recall from the Phillies of the late 50s and 60s was their reluctance to get on board with the ascension of the black athlete into baseball until Richie Allen came on board….and their front office run by the Carpenter family and the need to maintain a very cost conscious organization to the detriment of paying the players when they reached their peak years…..FA was not yet available for the players until Flood open the flood-gates.
        Understand the trades they made then were ‘bust’ for lack of a better term.
        But then again other teams experienced similar pitfalls.
        –Sadecki for Cepeda.
        –Frank Robinson to the Os for Milt Pappas
        –Keith Hernandez to the Mets for two ‘who’? pitchers
        –Bagwell to the ‘Stros from the Sox for our favorite announce LA
        –Randy Johnson to the Mariners from the Expos for who?
        –Pirates giving uo both Joey Bats and Aramis Ramirez
        and plenty more
        So it is not limited to just the Phillies making the bad decisions on trades.
        Happens to most teams that want to take the risks to get the ring.

  2. Fat Ted

    April 23, 2018 01:45 PM

    I suppose Altherr has earned some at-bats with Sunday’s performance, but I doubt anyone knows who it’ll be long-term there. If Kingery turns it around is it his spot to lose or will he forever be playing a different spot everyday?

    • jackm

      April 23, 2018 02:00 PM

      Kingery is mostly bouncing back-and-forth between 3B and SS now, because how you you justify taking Cesar out for anything other than the routine day off?

      If Crawford is your SS of the future (and he is TBH) then he should also be playing every day. That means it’s Kingery vs. Franco. In the interest of development, I’m going Kingery. Franco should be the first one traded. It’s because of nothing else other than he’s the easiest to not see here (for various reasons) once we maximize the potential of the whole infield.

      • awh

        April 23, 2018 07:22 PM

        Well, Jack, I’ll limit my comment to your Franco-Kingery point, and respond to the rest of your post (Altherr/Williams) elsewhere:

        I’m not sure that either one of them – Kingery or Franco – is the long term answer at 3B.
        -Franco has limited range but the arm for it, and
        -Kingery has the range but a limited arm.

        But mostly, I’m not sure either one of them will swing a big enough stick to be the permanent answer at the hot corner.

        I know Kingery is well loved in these parts – and I’m one of the guys that loves him – but I see nothing in his performance so far that indicates to me he’s a permanent solution anywhere. Granted, we haven’t seen enough, he’s a great athlete, etc. etc. etc., but we’re all ASSUMING he will improve. However, objectivity demands that he perform before he’s pronounced a full-time solution anywhere. So trading anyone to make room for him would be foolhardy at this point.

        Franco needs to swing a premium stick to make up for the sub-par defense and baserunning. From 2015 – 2018, Franco has had a 93 wRC+, which ranks him 33rd out of all qualified 3B over at Fangraphs.


        That’s not going to remotely cut it.

      • awh

        April 23, 2018 07:39 PM

        When Placido Polanco was traded to the Tigers on June 8, 2005, Chase Utley was slashing .309/.382/553.
        Point: they didn’t trade Polanco until Utley proved he could cut it. They should not trade anyone until the guy he’s competing with proves he can cut it.

  3. John Salmon

    April 23, 2018 01:45 PM

    I’d bring up Roman Quinn, look to find a taker for Altherr, maybe Wiliams as well.. Williams is poor defensively and likely won’t hit enough to make up for it. Altherr is a tweener-not enough bat for a corner, not enough glove for CF. Williams is at least potentially a keeper as a bench bat. I don’t agree with waiting to contend-why not try to win this year? They have the money to add pricey guys at the deadline….looking for 5-6 more wins (realistically they’re maybe a .500 team now) and a WC slot.

    • Romus

      April 23, 2018 02:41 PM

      Agree John Salmon….like to see if Quinn can get an opportunity….even if in RF.
      But not sporadic playing time under Gabe Kapler’s current juggling protocol.

  4. Michael C Lorah

    April 23, 2018 02:47 PM

    I respectfully disagree. Neither Altherr nor Williams has the track record or the performance to hand one a starting role, and one week of playing time isn’t going to change that. Furthermore, this shared time thing isn’t some new-fangled trick of roster management. The 2018 Phillies are on pace to have as many players with 500 plate appearances as the 2008 team, and the 2018 roster will have MORE 500 PA players than the 1993 team.

    If playing time is a problem, that says more about Altherr and Williams’ talent than the Phillies usage. Jayson Werth in 2008 shared time with Geoff Jenkins (ditto for Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste that year). Chase Utley, 2004, shared with Placido Polanco. Altherr and Williams are both on pace to bat approximately as often as Werth did in 2008.

    When Werth, Ruiz, and Utley proved they were every day players, they became every day players. When Altherr or Williams (or Kingery, Crawford or Franco) proves he’s the guy who should be starting every day, he will be.

    Right now, Hoskins, Herrera and Hernandez are proving it and the lineups reflect that.

    • awh

      April 24, 2018 12:10 AM

      Michael, I view things a bit differently, though I totally agree that playing time has to be earned.

      Altherr now has 663 PA across part of three seasons – 2015, 2017 and 2018. For the purpose of this example, I’m tossing 2016 because of the ST wrist injury which sapped any power he had later in the season when he came back.

      In those 663 PA Altherr has slashed .254/.334/.486 with 36 2B, 10 3B and 26 HR. Is that fantastic? Not by any means, but believe it or not that’s an above average RF. Is you look at what the production was in MLB in RF between 2018 – 2018, his BA and OBP are right in line with the averages, with his SLG about 40 points higher.

      Have a look: www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=rf&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2018&month=0&season1=2015&ind=0&team=0,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

      Factor in that overall defense in RF was very negative, and Altherr has the ability to be an above average, but not great, RF.

      His biggest problem in his MLB career is staying on the field, and the effect that injuries have had to his performance. In 2016 after coming back from the wrist injury he slashed an abysmal .202/.304/.293 in 227 PA, with a wRC+ of 63. Before he got hurt in 2017, he was slashing .285/.357/.536 in 336 PA, with 40 XBH. After he came back in September he finished .214/.263/.429 in 76 PA.

      Altherr’s biggest issue has been the injury setbacks. If not for that I believe he’d be an above average RF. His .157/.283/.333 slash line in 60 PA has been horrible, but you could argue from his .194 BAbip he’s been a bit unlucky. He’s also struck out at more than his normal rate this season – 30% vs. 24% historically.

      I look at Williams as actually having a bit more potential at the plate than Altherr (mostly because of his handedness), but without the defense, so for me, he has to hit more. His biggest issue seems to be his plate discipline. While he is walking a bit more this year – 15%, the sample size is anything but reliable, and he’s striking out at approximately the same rate he has in the past ~29%. It’s not like he’s been unlucky this season – his BAbip is right at .300, and he’s slashing .217/.294/.326 in 51 PA so far this season.

      The biggest issue I have with Jack’s analysis, is that I don’t think the 2018 sample sizes are any where large enough to draw a conclusion as to who should play, and given that Williams success in 2017 – .288/.338/.473 in 343 PA – was fueled by a .375 BAbip, I’d guess he regresses from those 2017 numbers but maybe he figures it out a bit more and doesn’t regress as much.

      Where Jack and I also disagree, is I don’t believe Williams “gives you the better chance for production”. If ‘production now’ is the criteria, the numbers indicate a healthy Altherr will be the better player.

      But, as Jack says, we’re 1/8 into the season, and Altherr and Williams have 60 and 51 PA respectively. That extrapolates to at least 400 for each guy. I just hope they both pick it up, because the team needs more than the .139/.269/.266 (93 PA) line they’ve gotten out of RF so far this season.

      • awh

        April 24, 2018 12:12 AM

        In the above, Nick Williams 2018 BB rate should say 9.8%.

    • Michael C Lorah

      April 24, 2018 06:50 AM

      awh, I think we’re mostly on the same page. Most of us suspect Williams has greater offensive potential, but we’re waiting to see if his plate discipline will undermine that potential, and depending how much of his potential he realizes, will he hit enough to offset his negative marks on defense.

      I suspect Altherr is what we’ve seen, a solid contributor on offense and defense. He’s not a game changer, but he’s a good complementary player.

      I like them both, and I think that either will be a solid, non-superstar outfielder who might sneak onto an All Star team in one of his better years. It’s just a matter of seeing if one of them seizes this moment.

      Anyway, part of me hopes that both are just marking time until Bryce Harper puts on red pinstripes. 😉

      • awh

        April 24, 2018 07:42 AM

        Michael, I should have emphasized what you did: I like them both too.

  5. Steve

    April 23, 2018 03:29 PM

    If Mitch Walding continues to Hit at LHV, will Franco be in jeopardy of losing his position? Yes, he is better this year but doesn’t exactly instill confidence that he will maintain. If Roman Quin continues to tear it up, does that solve the AA and NW question? He is having a great start to LHV’s season.

    • Romus

      April 23, 2018 04:32 PM

      Hard to believe Franco is only two weeks older than Walding.
      Walding has been in the Phillies system now for seven years.
      He may finally be turning the corner as a prospect.

  6. Walt

    April 24, 2018 05:19 AM

    The Bunning Arrieta vector matrix is telling. Both men arrived in Philly at age 32. The seven year progression for both men prior to arrival : Bunning’s chart shows win totals of 20, 14, 17, 11, 17, 19, 12. Arrieta’s is 10, 3, 5, 10, 22, 18, 14.

    Bunning for Philadelphia won 19, 19, 19 and 17 before leaving town. The Arrieta investment is poor from many more aspects beyond this comparison related to team readiness.

    • awh

      April 24, 2018 07:40 AM

      Walt, can you tell us in advance:

      If the Phillies do make the WC this season, manage to win the one-game playoff and make it to the playoff rounds, what will you say about “team readiness”?

      By your criteria the Phillies should have forgone the investment in Jim Thome, because “team reaadiness” wasn’t where it should have been.

      I have no idea whether this team is “ready”, but from the looks of them so far they’re as “ready” to compete for a WC slot as any other team not expected in the pre-season to win their division.

    • Wawa Mike

      April 24, 2018 07:57 AM

      The rebuild has been accelerated, but it’s not over. On some fronts (pitching) it looks really good, but the lineup and defense still need tweaking. I don’t know if Altherr/Williams have options left. If they do, I’d send one to Lehigh, and keep the other, and let them both play every day for a week. Then I’d switch them up, and send the other down for a week.
      Rhys Hoskins can be better! Right now, he’s not getting anything to hit. Pitchers don’t fear our 5 hole hitter. I’d consider putting Santana in the 5 hole for a few games, and see if anything develops.

    • SteveD

      April 26, 2018 09:47 AM

      Walt, either you are 70+ as most of your posts of referencing the 50’s and 60’s or if you get really creative, the 70’s or you are someone who is a history buff and just likes showing off his old time knowledge to try and validate ludicrous points.
      What I see in most of all the posts is a serious lack of patience, everyone wants to sit this guy, trade that guy, move someone up, send someone down. We are 22 games into a season a trial and error.
      Let’s see how this plays out. I am neither overly impressed with VV’s two game revival nor overly concerned by his regression against the Diamondbacks. I thought he pitched pretty well, the defense let him down but he did ok against a good team.
      Jetpacks needs to make adjustments, I think he will as he has shown the ability at all levels, it may take four months.
      Crawford needs to improve his concentration and stop making mental errors in the field. I can live with him adjusting to big league pitching, again a four to six month expectaton if we see how the transitions have occurred as he moved up the MiLB. If he hits .250/.340/…for this year, I will be pleased.
      Hoskins will hit a bump in the road at some point. It’s a long season and none of them have been through the 162 game grind of June, July and August.
      AA has had a few good games, I disagree that he is only a 4th outfielder at best, none of us know what he will be. He has the tools, can he put them in play over the long season.
      Santana is making good contact but has a horrible BABIP. Things tend to regress to the mean over a long season. He’ll be fine, he is a pro with a track record.
      Arrieta was a great signing. He provides stability and another Coach for the kids who can truly relate to what they are going through. This was missing since we traded CH, someone in season who can eat, breathe and spit baseball that the young SP’s can go to for advise.
      Keep playing Alfaro and Knapp but mostly Alfaro. He is looking good defensively and he’s a catcher, whatever we get from him offensively is a bonus as his defense is showing major strides.
      Take a deep breath, enjoy a team which is showing great spirit and are fun to watch.
      Pieces are in the

  7. Jeffrey Orbach

    April 25, 2018 10:16 AM

    This year I think the demise of the Phillies will be the amount of K’s their batters accumulate. Alfaro is the worst , but not the only culprit. He and Kingery have turned into K machines if you add Altherr-Williams and many others you have a big, big problem.

    I think part of the problem is Kaplers lack of giving guys a consistant string of AB’s to develop a rythym at the plate. However I think Alfaro will never develop any rythym at the plate as he seems to take a huge cut at anything remotely near or not near the strike zone.
    I hope the batting coaches are working on this.
    I also would like to see them add Chooch to the coaching staff to work with Knapp and Alfaro on their defense.

    • jackm

      April 25, 2018 06:44 PM

      I run to the sink and wretch every time Alfaro and Kingery bat. I believe they’re our future and they’ll get better (cause they can’t possibly get worse), but right now it’s unwatchable.

  8. Major Malfunction

    April 25, 2018 01:18 PM

    Interesting article and good comments.

    However it’s obvious someone has an axe to grind with the comments and/or CB. Even if you remove Walt’s -18 in the comments, the overall comments are like -40 in votes. Is everybody so angry they are just down voting everyone else or is there group trolling taking place for reasons unknown to us readers?

    • Romus

      April 25, 2018 02:50 PM

      ” Is everybody so angry they are just down voting everyone else ….or is there group trolling taking place for reasons unknown to us readers?”…I think it is a combination.
      Though there are some savvy hi-tech types who can ‘vote’ muliple times..
      One of the other Phillies site…a prospect based site…the owner decided to take out completely the negative/positive function, or the five star rating function.
      He just got tired of it all.

    • jackm

      April 25, 2018 06:43 PM

      Haha, I’ve actually wondered about that. Someone who is very frustrated at something else in their life, I imagine.

  9. Walt

    April 26, 2018 10:24 AM

    Yeah. Ludicrous. If I am Nola making 517,500 and the new dude makes guaranteed 30mil now, 25mil next yr and 20 mil the following yr: I am really going to enjoy his mentoring and think he is the greatest thing to happen to moi and worship at the Cub Boras altar. And concurrently many publications are stating that Nola is the ace and the new guy is #2. This is going to make me love my situation. Please . . .

    • Chris S

      April 26, 2018 11:20 AM

      Nola will make his when his time comes.

    • jackm

      April 26, 2018 12:34 PM

      Do you think Nola is that arrogant or ignorant that he doesn’t understand how this business works? Arrieta is a vet of 7+ years and Nola hasn’t thrown 170 innings or made 30 starts in a season. I know which one I’d expect to be paid.

      • Walt

        April 30, 2018 01:02 AM

        Arrogant and ignorant are not in play here. Have you ever played organized sports? Do you know what a competitor is and the traits of a competitor? Ever hear of equal pay for equal work? The pay disparity is too great. If I am getting the job done like Nola is; I do not want to be in the same room with the Cub ringer. He certainly will not be allowed to mentor me. I want to be treated like an ace should be treated. I am not interested in waiting my turn because it is baseball’s good ol boy network. The Phils have this ringer because the top brass are Balto dudes and they love former Balto dudes. That is why Hunter is in Philly; a former Balto dude. Good luck signing me when I am a free agent. If the Phils did not want this type of issue, they should have kept the new Whiz Kid culture in play. Once they crossed this line with mercenaries they have jeopardized the rebuild. Why don’t they even use Hunter? He has pitched approx. two innings. Neshek has a sore toenail so he is on the DL. First base is not working.

  10. Romus

    April 26, 2018 02:42 PM

    After today’s Facebook game , the Phillies will have one more scheduled for them this season:
    Thu, May 10 1:05 pm SF Giants.

  11. Jeff

    April 29, 2018 05:43 PM

    I think it was a mistake to sign Santana. Prior to that signing, I was looking forward to Hoskins at 1B, Williams in RF, and Altherr in LF. Santana isn’t exactly hitting either but remains in the lineup daily.

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