Astros Are World Series Champs

For the first time ever, the Houston Astros are World Series champions, after beating the Los Angeles Dodges 5-1 in Game 7 of one of the most exciting Fall Classics in the modern era.

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The underdog Astros defied the odds and the experts by beating a Dodger team with more wins (104) than anyone else in baseball. My prediction of the Dodgers in 6 was way off. Looks like I underestimated the grit of the Astros, who overcame Hurricane Harvey in August and a streak of futility dating back to their genesis in 1962.

Only the Cleveland Indians have endured more hardships over the years. The Tribe have been shut out of titles every year since 1948. With the Astros victory, there are just six teams now that have never captured a World Series crown since joining the league: San Diego Padres (1969), Milwaukee Brewers (1970), Texas Rangers (1972), Seattle Mariners (1977), Colorado Rockies (1991), Tampa Bay Rays (1998) and the Washington Nationals (2005). The Nationals and the Mariners are the only two teams that have never even been to the World Series.

Astros center fielder George Springer was named MVP, after tying a World Series record with 5 home runs (along with Reggie Jackson in 1977 and Chase Utley in 2009.) Springer batted .379 with 7 Runs Batted In.

George Springer, MVP

George Springer, MVP

The UCONN product also had 7 extra base hits, the most ever in a World Series.

This Game 7 was one-sided and not as thrilling as others in baseball history. Here’s a look at how the other 38 ranked. Spoiler Alert: if you’re a Yankee fan you won’t want to see what’s tops on the list:

Ranking All Previous Game 7’s

Congratulations to the Houston Astros for their historic victory.

Now that the World Series is over, I’ll go into my annual hibernation. After all, there are only two seasons in life: Baseball and winter.

In the words of baseball great Rogers Hornsby: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

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Astros Top Dodgers in Greatest World Series Game Ever

Jose Altuve went deep for the Astros in the 10th.  So did Carlos Correa. And George Springer  won it in the 11th with a two-run home run: Springer Goes Deep after Yasiel Puig and Charlie Culbertson hit the ball out of the park for the Dodgers in the 10th and 11th respectively. Five dingers in extra innings – the most ever in World Series history, for a 7-6 Astros victory that knots the two teams at one victory each.

Prior to tonight, there had been 17 extra-inning homers in all the previous World Series combined. Now there are 22.

Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen showed he’s not Superman after all when he allowed Marwin Gonzalez’s four-bagger in the 9th.And Houston ace Justin Verlander also gave up homers to Joc Pederson and Corey Seager in a game that saw 8 balls fly over the fence. Yes that’s also a World Series record.The back and forth cat and mouse game was one of the most exciting ever – perhaps the best World Series game – and I’ve watched hundreds of them on TV and witnessed four games in person.The Series now shifts to Houston for Game 3 and I can’t wait for Friday!

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Are the Dodgers a Team of Destiny?

The 2017 World Series is special.

It features two teams that each won 100+ games, for the fist time since 1970, when the Baltimore Orioles beat the Cincinnati Reds.

As for predictions, I was wrong about the Indians, but right about the Dodgers winning the pennant.

The Dodgers have home field advantage and pitching edge with starters Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood.

Clayton Kershaw. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Dodgers bullpen features the best closer in baseball with Kenley Jansen.

Plus, All-Star shortstop Corey Seager is expected to be back in the lineup.

Add in superstar 3rd baseman Justin Turner and Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Bellinger at 1st, along with Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier in the outfield and you’ve got a powerful lineup that knows how to win.

But the Astros are good too.

Start with Justin Verlander, who is 9-0 since joining the Astros. He has been lights out as a starter since tweaking his delivery. Expect him to start Game 2 on Wednesday.

Houston’s Game 1 starter is likely to be Dallas Keuchel, who dominated most teams this season, except for the Yankees in Game 5.

The Astros also have Charlie Morton, who pitched brilliantly in Game 7 along with Lance McCullers, who saved the game.

However, their bullpen is weak, as we saw in the American League Championship Series.

The Astros strength is their terrific infield, with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa sparking the offense and defense. Altuve is the likely MVP in the AL. His performance this postseason showcases his greatness. The little man delivers big hits in the clutch.

The Astros have never won a World Series and I don’t believe this is their year.

The Dodgers are just too deep and too talented. But then I said the same thing about the Indians.

Nevertheless, I’m picking the Dodgers to beat the Astros in 6.

 

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Playoff Predictions: Tribe Will Win It All

It’s October.

Time for the the baseball playoffs and pennant fever. Ten teams are in, but only one will become the champion. Here’s my take on who gets to wear the World Series crown.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Wild Card:  Yankees beat the  Twins. Give the Yanks the edge because of their post-season experience and the fact they are very tough to beat at Yankee Stadium. Still, it’s not a slam dunk. The Twins will start one of the best pitchers in the league in Ervin Santana, who finished 16-8 this year, with a 3.28 ERA. But the Yanks will counter with Luis Severino who was 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA.

Plus the Bronx Bombers have the likely Rookie of the Year (and MVP candidate) Aaron Judge, who hit 52 Home Runs in his first season in the Bigs. No one else has ever done that in the history of the game. Judge also came in 2nd to only Mike Trout in On-Base Plus Slugging percentage with a mark of 1.049.

If New York takes a lead into the 7th innning – FaGet-About-It. Nobody’s beating the triple headed monster of closers in David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.

ALDS Boston Red Sox @ Houston Astros: Houston in 5. How can I not pick the Red Sox? After all, Boston will undoubtedly start with Strikeout King Chris Sale on the mound. All he did was strikeout 308 batters (40 more than anyone else) to lead the majors. He is 5-1 against the Astros, with a 1.31 lifetime ERA against them.  Look for him to dominate in Game 1. But should the game get close, Boston has Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers in baseball. So I look for Boston to win game 1.

But Boston’s pitching is not very deep. One of their starters, Rick Porcello led the Major Leagues in losses this year with 17. Yes the Red Sox have a great outfield in Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, plus the pesky Dustin Pedroia at 2nd base.

But the Astros tipped the balance this year by adding Justin Verlander to the starting rotation. He’s 5-0 since joining the Astros with an ERA of 1.06 . This is his best (and perhaps last) shot to win a World Series and I think he’ll pitch like a champ. His experience and grit is just what the Astros need. Plus they have Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, both 14-game winners this year. Ken “100 Miles” Giles is a very good closer with 34 saves.

On top of that, Houston has arguably the best double-play combination in baseball with 2nd Baseman Jose Altuve and Shortstop Carlos Correa. Altuve was the best hitter in baseball with a .346 batting average, 32 stolen bases and 24 Home Runs. Correa hit .315 with 24 Homers.

The Astros also have Left Fielder Marwin Gonzalez who hit .303 with 23 Homers and Josh Reddick hit .314 with 13 dingers.

The Astros will win this series.

ALDS Yankees @ Cleveland Indians. Indians in 4. Cleveland is the best team in baseball. Their pitching is top notch. Corey Kluber led the Majors in ERA at 2.25, with a record of 18-4. Talk about total dominance. And Kluber also led the Majors in wins with 18, tied with his teammate Carlos Corrasco who was 18-6. Corrasco was injured last year and didn’t get to play in the World Series. Trevor Bauer is the #3 starter at 17-9, so the Indians are healthy in the starting rotation along with Andrew Miller in the bullpen.

At the plate, Cleveland is loaded with talent. Third baseman Jose Ramirez hit .318 with 29 Home Runs and he led the Majors in doubles with 56. The Indians have arguably the best DH in baseball in Edwin Encarnacion who hit 38 HRs with 107 Runs Batted In. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is one of the most exciting players in baseball. He’s a defensive genius and a great hitter, knocking 33 Homers while hitting .273.

ALCS Houston @ Cleveland. Indians in 5. Losing the World Series last year has been a big motivator for the Tribe. they are focused on winning it all this year and I believe they will do just that.

National League Wild Card: Colorado Rockies @ Arizona Diamondbacks. The Snakes win this one. It’s a one-game play-in and I’ll take Zack Greinke at 17-7 over Colorado’s 10-4 Jon Gray any day. Greinke is money. Plus, J.D. Martinez led the Majors in Slugging Percentage at .690 and Paul Goldschmidt was 4th in RBI with 120.

The Rockies have a great hitter in Charlie Blackmon, who was the best in all of baseball in Runs scored (137), Hits (213), Triples (14) and Total Bases (387). He came in 2nd in batting average at .331, behind only Jose Altuve. Nelson Arenado may be the best 3rd baseman in the National League. He also hit 37 Homers with a .309 batting average. 2nd Baseman D.J. LeMahieu hit ( .310).

Still, in a 1-game play-in, I give the edge to Greinke and the DBacks.

NLDS Chicago Cubs @ Washington Nationals. Nats in 4. The Cubs were my pre-season pick to make the World Series to play the Indians in a rematch of the 2016 World Series. But this year’s Cubs are not last year’s champions. For starters, their pitching has been inconsistent. Only three pitchers had more than 10 wins (Jake Arrieta was 14-10, John Lester 13-8) while John Lackey was a lackluster 12-12.

I just don’t see them beating the Nationals. Washington has four solid starters in Max Scherzer (16-6), Gio Gonzalez (15-9), Stephen Stasburg (15-4) and 13-game winner Tanner Roark.

At the plate, the Nats are solid with five guys (Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Lind and Anthony Rendon batting over .300.)  Rendon shares the same name as the Speaker of the California Assembly, but the real leader of the Nationals is Sacramento’s Dusty Baker. I’m rooting for him to go far this year and I do believe Washington will beat Chicago.

NLDS Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers. Dodgers in 4. The Dodgers have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Clayton Kershaw. His 18 wins were the most in the National League and his 2.31 ERA was second only to Corey Kluber. Kenley Jansen is perhaps the best closer in baseball with 41 Saves, a 5-0 record and an ERA of just 1.32.Alex Wood had 16 wins for the Dodgers, while Kenta Maeda notched 13 and Rich Hill had 12.

Hitting wise, the Dodgers have a lot of pop in their lineup. Cody Bellinger, who is likely to win Rookie of the Year, hit 39 Homers, while Yasiel Puig had 28, while Catcher Yasmani Grandal hit 22. Justin Turner had a good year at the plate hitting .322.

The Dodgers are loaded and should handily beat the DBacks.

NLCS Washington Nationals @ Los Angeles Dodgers: Dodgers in 6. Kershaw can pitch twice in this series and probably will. Yes I know he’s had his post-season meltdowns, but this year the Dodgers are too good to fail at winning the pennant.

World Series: Indians in 4. A sweep for the Tribe. Their pitching will dominate and their defense will dazzle. Lindor and Encarnacion will be sensational in this series. Jose Ramirez will win the MVP. Cleveland is no longer the mistake by the lake, but rather the best team in the land.

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All Tied Up After 88 Games

Robinson Cano’s home run in the top of the 10th propelled the American League to a 2-1 victory over the National League on Tuesday night in Miami. It was the Junior Circuit’s fifth consecutive victory over the Senior Circuit.

Robinson Cano, MVP

Robinson Cano, MVP

The AL has now won 12 of the last 15 contests, thanks to MVPs Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Eric Hosmer and Mariano Rivera, to name just a few.

But despite the AL’s recent dominance, the overall record of the two teams is 43 wins, 43 losses and two ties. It doesn’t get any more even than that. Imagine that: 88 games and we’re still tied.

Or as Yogi Berri once said, “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken,”

Long-time baseball fans will remember the National League ruled the roost in the 50’s, 60’s, 70′ and most of the 80’s. MVP’s included Maury Wills, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan.

In the early years, the American League was on top, winning 12 of the first 16 games between 1933 and 1949. But the National League won 19 out of 20 times between 1963 and 1982. And now we’re dead even.

This year’s extra inning affair is the 12th in All-Star history. I saw one of those games in person in 1987 at the Oakland Coliseum, when Tim Raines tripled in the 13th inning to give the NL a 2-0 victory.

Most fans don’t know this, but from 1959 – 1962 there were actually two All Star Games, before the leagues reverted to the single game format in 1963.

Every current Major League city has hosted an All Star Game except for St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s because the domed monstrosity known as Tropicana Field has all the atmosphere of a hospital ward. It is without a doubt, the ugliest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

The Washington National will host next year’s All Star Game, while the 2019 game will be played in Cleveland’s Progressive Field.

 

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Rain delay helps Cubs reign over Indians

A 17-minute rain delay before the 10th inning gave the Cubs the break they needed to capture their first World Series crown since 1908.  Cubs right fielder Jason Hayward called a team meeting in the weight room (or should we say Wait Room after 108 years), and urged his teammates on to victory.

Chicago tallied two runs in the top of the 10th to take an 8-6 lead, but the Indians scored only once in the bottom of the frame to end one of the most exciting World Series ever, 8-7.

See celebration here: http://m.mlb.com/news/article/207938228/chicago-cubs-win-2016-world-series/

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Cubs Win!

Cubs left fielder Ben Zobrist was named MVP after knocking in the go-ahead run in the 10th (Miguel Montero would add the winning RBI with a bases-loaded single.) Zobrist collected ten hits and was a magnum force, batting .357  in the Series.

Congratulations to the Cubs for killing the curse and breaking a 108-year drought. Now the pressure is on the Indians to overcome 68 years of futility. But when you consider the fact that Cleveland was missing its best player (starting center fielder Michael Brantley) along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (and pitcher Danny Salazar, also not fully healed), the Indians are primed for a return engagement to the World Series in 2017 – perhaps against these very same Chicago Cubs.

 

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

The Chicago Cubs are heading to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Celebration at Wrigley

Celebration at Wrigley

Kyle Henricks pitched a two-hitter and Aroldis Chapman shut the door in the 8th and 9th to preserve a 5-0 shutout over the Dodgers.

First pennant since 1945

First pennant since 1945

The Cubs have clinched their first National League pennant in 71 years.

71-year pennant drought ends with '16 Cubs.

71-year pennant drought ends with ’16 Cubs

I was right about the Cubs winning  the pennant – but so was everyone else. But I was dead wrong about the Cleveland Indians. I figured they had no chance against the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, but they beat both teams convincingly, thanks to MVP Andrew Miller, who may be the best relief pitcher in baseball. In 11.2 innings pitched, Miller struck out 21 batters, while giving up 0 runs – that’s right he had an ERA of 0.00 against David Ortiz, Josh Donaldson and some of the best hitters in baseball.

Still the Indians do have pitching woes. Corey Kluber is their ace, but after that their starting pitching is not very deep. However, manager Terry Francona has been hinting that Danny Salazar could start a game. Salazar hasn’t pitched in over a month after suffering a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm, but he appears to be on the mend. Cleveland will need him to rock if they hope to roll over the Cubs.

The Indians do have Jason Kipnis at second and Francisco Lindor at shortstop – so they do have some talent. But the Cubs can out muscle them with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell – not to mention their pitching staff may be the best in baseball with the 1-2-3 punch of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrietta.

I think Cleveland can steal a game from Chicago, but the Cubs are the better team. And just as a baseball has 108 stitches, it would be poetic justice for the Cubs to wear the crown in 2016, after 108 years of futility. I’ll take the Cubs in 5 over the Tribe.

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Postseason Predictions

cubs

Two fantastic finishes so far, featuring 3-run homers for the Blue Jays and the Giants in wins against the Orioles and Mets, respectively. I’m 2-0 in predictions thus far in postseason play, but maybe that’s just Wild Card luck.  Here are my picks for the rest of the playoffs:

American League Division Series (Best of 5 games):

Boston Red Sox over the Cleveland Indians in 3 games.

The Indians have no chance against the Red Sox after losing their #2 starter Carlos Carrasco to a broken hand and #3 starter Danny Salazar to a tendon injury. Making things worse – their ace Corey Kluber is recovering from a quadriceps injury and it’s unlikely he can be effective. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have 22-game winner Rick Porcello (22-4) on the mound for Game 1. And Big Papi is healthy and hungry for a 4th ring in his final season. The Red Sox should sweep 3-0.

Toronto Blue Jays over the Texas Rangers in 5 games.

The Rangers are heavily favored and have home field advantage through the World Series if they advance, plus Cole Hamels (15-5) is one of the best pitchers in baseball, so it’s hard to count them out. But I’m going with the Blue Jays because they have the most powerful lineup in baseball. Did you see Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off homer against the Orioles? He hit 42 home runs during the regular season. The guy is clutch.  Josh Donaldson hit 37 round trippers, while Michael Saunders and Troy Tulowitzki each had 24. And Jose (Joey Bats) Bautista smacked 22 over the wall. Pitcher J.A. Happ is a 20-game winner and Aaron Sanchez was 15-2 on the season. The biggest problem for the Jays is that reliever Roberto Osuna is recovering from an arm injury. That could be a game changer, but I’ll take my chances on Toronto.

National League Division Series (Best of 5 games):

Chicago Cubs over the San Francisco Giants in 4 games:

Yes I know it’s an even year and the Giants have momentum. Champs in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And nobody beats Mad Bum in October. Nobody. I get it. So I’ll concede Game 3 to the Giants on Sunday when Bumgarner is on the mound. But the Cubs have great pitching with ERA leader Kyle Hendricks (2.13) – and Game 1 starter Jon Lester was second best in ERA with 2.44. And don’t forget Jake Arrieta who led the Majors with a stingy .194 Average Allowed by batters. Arrieta also gave up the fewest hits in MLB – just 6.29 in nine innings. Third on the list was Kyle Hendricks at 6.73. Plus the Cubs lineup is potent with Kris Bryant (39 home runs) and Anthony Rizzo (32 homers).

Los Angeles Dodgers over the Washington Nationals in 5 games:

Washington’s woes begin with injuries. Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg is out with a bad elbow. Worst of all, All Star catcher Wilson Ramos is hurt and won’t be suiting up. And Washington’s best hitter Daniel Murphy (.347 batting average) is recovering from an upper leg injury. Even if Murphy plays, he won’t be 100 percent. The Dodgers  pitching is thin after Clayton Kershaw, but I’ll take the Dodgers by default.

American League Division Series (Best of 7):

Toronto over Boston in 7.

National League Division Series (Best of 7):

Cubs over the Dodgers in 5.

 

WORLD SERIES:

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

After 107 seasons of failure, this is finally the Cubs year.

Chicago over Toronto in 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating the Old and the New

David “Big Papi” Ortiz made history on Wednesday night, hitting his 30th home run of the season – becoming the oldest player to do so in Major League Baseball.

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David Ortiz

At age 40, Ortiz has 40 doubles and also 100 Runs Batted In. His 10 seasons of 100 RBI’s is the most in Red Sox history – and it ties him with some immortals of the game – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig.

But rookie sensation Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees is also making history, with a towering home run against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.  Since graduating from Triple-A on August 3, the Baby Bronx Bomber has hit 9 home runs in just 70 at bats. He is the first and only Yankee to hit 9 homers in his first 21 career games – better than Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle. Sanchez has now tied Joe DiMaggio with 10 or more extra-base hits in his first 16 career games.

Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez

The 23-year-old is hitting .389 with 9 homers and 16 Runs Batted In. He’s so good that the Mariners walked him twice – intentionally – in Wednesday’s game. If he keeps it up, one day the name of Gary Sanchez might appear in the same sentence as David Ortiz.

 

 

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How To Make Baseball Better

When it comes to baseball, I’m a traditionalist.

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

So I’m not keen on Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci’s suggestions to change the rules by adding bonus batters and lowering the mound by two inches to pump up run production – see article here: http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/07/28/mlb-schedule-roster-mound-replays-bonus-batter?xid=nl_siextra

Verducci also calls for limiting the number of timeouts to six per nine innings (that would certainly speed up the games) and requiring relief pitchers to face at least two batters. Sure, fans would have fewer interruptions but I suspect some people enjoy the breaks to load up on hot dogs, pretzels and beer.

Verducci does call for shortening the 162 game season. As a traditionalist, I like the idea of bringing baseball back to it’s heritage of  154 games  – the way it used to be before MLB added 8 extra games in 1961 to accommodate expansion and the arrival of the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. (And those Angels actually played in Los Angeles, not Anaheim).

As Verducci points out, Monday is the least popular day of the week in terms of fan attendance. Also, players need more days off. So why not schedule just one game on a Monday and make it a traditional baseball rivalry contest between the Yankees and Red Sox or the Giants and Dodgers or maybe the Cubs vs. the Cardinals? It would make Mondays special and allow more players to be healthy for the playoffs.

And while we’re at it, let’s shorten the playoffs. The World Series should never be about dodging snow flakes and sub-freezing temperatures while the gales of November are raging. But there have been more than half a dozen World Series games played in November:

http://www.sbnation.com/2015/11/1/9654130/world-series-november-baseball-history-mlb-mets-royals-game-5

I love the one-game playoff between the two wild card teams. The best of five format for the Division Series is great, but let’s also make the League Championship Series a five-game match-up, so the World Series can actually start and finish before Halloween.

It just doesn’t feel right to play baseball in sleet and freezing rain. After all, Reggie Jackson was “Mr. October” and not “Mr. November.”

And then finally, let’s get rid of the DH. I’ve never liked the Designated Hitter rule. The DH allows aging American League hitters to show off their one-dimensional offensive skills but it  dilutes the purity of the game.

Yes it’s exciting to see 40-year old David Ortiz smack one out of the park, but even more thrilling when a National League pitcher like Madison Bumgarner does it. In fact MadBum has 13 career home runs, with two of them against Clayton Kershaw.

The DH takes strategy out of the game – for example, what if your National League pitcher is due to hit next with a runner on second in the bottom of the 7th innning while locked in a 1-1 tie? If there are two outs, you might have to pinch hit for him, but if it’s MadBum maybe you like your chances with him at the plate and then pitching the 8th inning. The decision is a tough one for any manager, but that makes the game exciting. Plus, whatever happens, fans get to question the strategy of the manager, which makes for vibrant discussions on sports talk radio.

To me, baseball is nearly perfect the way it is, but a few tweaks might be good for the game. What do you think?

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