Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 17, 2013

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Boz you know much more about baseball than any of us and Davey is a HOF'er and I love him for what he did last year. And I was 14 in B'More when he was a rookie in 66 and the O's won it all (BTW with 33 consecutive scoreless innings against the Dodgers - a record that will never be broken). But....I think the Nats should kick him upstairs and let Randy Knorr take over to try to take the pressure off the hitters....the WS or Bust attitude is drowning this season. I know you think they can still turn it around but after yesterday and Friday night I'm about done....I hope you're right but......

Davey's not the problem. Or, in the sense that everybody is part of the problem, he's not the central element in fixing the problem.

And the problem is offense. That's it. That's all. But that's a TON when you have fallen from 10th in scoring to 29th with a lineup that is very similar or -- with Rendon now at second and Harper hitting much higher (when healthy) than he did as a rookie -- looks like it might be better on paper.

So, what SHOULD the Nats lineup be producing? And will it start (soon, even) to hit to that level.

For years I've always had the same method for predicting (roughly) how many runs a team will score.

An MLB team will score about as many runs in a season as there are points in its team OPS. If the team OPS is .750, as the Nats were last year, they ought to score about 750 runs. In fact, they scored 731 -- close enough for guesstimating purposes.

This is a statistical fluke. There is no "theory" behind it. It just works. Year after year. Also, for teams with very high OPS there seems to be some synergy at work. A .780 OPS might tend to produce 800 runs. And for very low team OPS, like the Nats niserable, there is some "anchor" effect of everybody dragging everybody else down. The Nats OPS is .666 yet they are on pace for an insanely low 565 runs. They are choking in clutch situations to as great a degree as you will ever see. Yesterday was a perfect example: first and third, no outs = no runs. First and third, no outs = no runs. Bases loaded, no outs = no runs.

How do you figure out, roughly, what a team's OPS SHOULD be? The eight regulars in the lineup (in the N.L.) get about 2/3 of all at abts. The pitchers get about 300 ABs with an OPS of maybe .425. The bench gets the rest with an OPS usually between .650 and .675.

I made sensible estimates of what the Nats OPS should be -- based on entire careeror recent years, whichever made more sense. Werth, for example, isn't the old Werth. He's maybe a .750-to-.775 player now. (.800 last year). Zimmerman isn't the .900 hitter he was for a couple of years -- more like .820. Harper isn't as good as his '13 OPS. Etc.

Here the point: NOT MATTER HOW MODEST YOUR ASSUMPTIONS, the Nats should score about .450-to-4.75 runs a game for a whole season. Currently, it's 3.49. That's incredible. It's almost a statistical "long tail" event, like a '29 crash in the stock market. It shouldn't be possible for them to be this bad. But they are.

1) If they revert to normal production for the full-year '13, they will errupt with one of the biggest run splurges you've ever seen -- more than 5.00 runs a game the rest of the season, perhaps after Harper gets back, with Rendon hitting No. 2.

I don't believe that. Too optimistic. But if it happened, you'd probably see the Nats end up with 92-to-94 wins.

2) The Nats simply get back to the 4.5-to-.4.7 range the rest of the season. If they do, I won't bore you with the arithmetic (it's not worthy of being called "math"), they'd probably end up with 88-to-90 wins and, mostly likely, be the last wild card. Though they might miss it.

3) They keep hitting like this all year in defiance of their own past performance. Well, then they are a .500 team with first-rate pitching that goes to waste. And if, at some point, they get sufficiently demoralized, they might even be a losing team. I also doubt that scenario.

Objectively, imo, if they were a team from 1,000 miles away, I'd saw, "Watch out for this team if it starts to hit because it might go nuts the rest of the year."

Subjectively, I'd say, "What a bunch of bums. If they can gag at the plate for 68 games, they can keep right on doing it."

Most likely, they hit a LOT better but they have dug a hole from which they will have to keep digging themselves for the rest of the season. 

Tom, Last season the Redskins and others had defenders out of position and chasing the wrong guy with frequency. What do you see defenses doing differently this season to combat this trend? Thanks.

That will be one of the big questions of '13: How do NFL defenses adjust to the Pistol.

At all levels of football for decades the response to an effective offense that uses the QB as a runner to some degree is to tell the defense: Kill the quarterback every time he runs. Make him not WANT to run. I ran the option in high school -- an early variation of what Navy ran so well for Johnson not long ago. You stopped that offense by always forcing the QB to run -- make HIM the option that has to be taken. Even if he gains a lot of yardage -- at first -- make him pay. Take him out of the game if possible.

If the Skins think they can run the same offense with the same emphaisis on RGIII running -- yes, I know they say he didn't get hurt on designed plays -- they run a good chance of getting him crushed.

Well, unless football has changed from every patern of the last 50 years.

Tom, I loved your columns during the open, especially today's Phil column. Thank you for your continued brilliance. I had a question about simple baseball strategy. I don't want to second guess Davey by any means; however, on Friday night, tie game, bottom of the 9th, no outs, men on second and third, don't you put the guy on first? I don't think Abad was especially wild and the on deck guy didn't really scare me (you'd have to face him anyway hopefully). Thanks again.

I try to avoid questions as nice as yours. (But thanks.)

Great question. This is almost EXACTLY the "Do You Walk Kozma" situation all over again. The at bats started with men at the corners and one out. The runner on first stole second (if I remember correctly) at a point when there was two strikes on the hitter -- on the 3-1 pitch, I think. EVERY hitter with two strikes hits under .200. You have first base open, so you throw a "pitcher's pitch." If he chases, he's probably dead. If he doesn't, you walk him to load the bases -- a "so what." 

BUT you are trusting the pitcher to execute and not throw a pitch the hitter can handle. Storen did to Kozma and paid. I haven't see the Abad pitch. But it got hit. This is a tough "stratgey theory" question. It is TOUGH to say, "Okay, lets intentyionally walk a mediocre hitter who ALREADY HAS TWO STRIKES."

One other factor: Abad has had some control problems in his history. So the IW has it's own risks with him. Maybe you trust his stuff in that spot more than his control, so you don't give the IW.

It;s a tough call and it hasn't worked out twice. There's one BIG difference between the two situations. In Game 5 there were two outs. In Cleveland, only one out. So, I'll leave it at that.

Thanks to you and Barry for your coverage. I know this is inside baseball but how are caddies compensated when on the bag for amateurs? Out of pocket from the player who can't collect a check or does USGA/PGA throw them a bone? Or maybe buy them a cheesesteak from Pats or Genos...

I don't know! Sometimes it's a relative or friend on the amateur's bag. If it's not, I'd guess "out of pocket."

Does any chatter actually know the answer?

 

Boz, did his brain lock up again, did his bravado get in the way or did he just hit too many bad shots down the stretch yesterday? And is Justin Rose the first athlete ever from "out of town" to praise Philadelphia sports fans?

This was not a Mickelson Meltdown. No big mental mistakes, though he thought he should have managed his problems better at third and fifth and only made bogeys, not doubles. That's true, but not a Mental Mistake, in my book.

His three wedge shots of 117, 121 and 121 at 5, 13 and 15 were all very bad for one of the world's best wedge players -- a guy who carried FIVE wedges in his bag on Sunday an NO driver! Irony, to say the least. He took four shots to get down in all three of those situations.

Also, another of Mickelson's strengths is his ability to make 8-to-20-foot putts. He's always missed some short ones but he's usually death on those semi-lengthy but "makeable" ones. And he missed them ALL, except one longish save of par.

Two of his strengths -- wedge play and putting -- did him in more than anything.

However, I think he also fell into a classic US Open trap -- thinking that you need to shoot under par in the final round to win even though you are already the leader. I have seen it over and over, even wrote a column entirely about it once. Phil said over and over after the Saturday round that he thought it "would take an under-par round to win on Sunday." And he said, "I think I have an under-par round in me." 

What happens? The leader, or player in the last group, who is thinking about a 68-or-69 ends up actually needing a 70-71-or-72 to win and a 71-72-73 to be in a playoff. But he shoots just high enough -- 73-74 -- to lose the Open.

If you had told Phil on Saturday nite that "71 wins, 72 ties and 28 guys will shoot 72 or better on Sunday," I bet that -- somehow -- he's have gotten that 71 or 72, not 74.

Rose was classy to Philly fans.

This event was an "A" for TV. The "thrill factor" that I wrote about for Saturday worked out exactly as the USGA and Mike Davis hoped. At one point I looked at Rose's card on Sunday and he had five birds, five bogeys and five pars -- an "action" card -- rather than the hallowed 16 pars, one birdie, one bogey card that's supposed to win the Open.

It was probably a B+ or A- for the players, most of whom loved Merion (except Zach Johnson and couple of others who groused). Mickelson and a lot of the very best players thought it was a fair and exciting test.

For the fans, it was a tough week trying to get 25K people onto 110 acres. The grandstands were excellent but if you want to walk it was a chore with lots of dead ends and double backs.

It was a "D" or "F" for the media for various logistical reasons that you wouldn't care about. But that's one reason you heard so much complaining about the Open never coming back to Merion.

Well, what you want is to identify high-quality golfers with a thrilling ending and a near-par nerve-wrenching final winning score. Well, it was a four-way battle with Rose (No. 5 in world going in), the stellar Mickelson, Jason Day, who'll probably win a major and high-ceiling Huntere Mahan. All four may end up as major winners. The drama was excellent and one-over-par won.

I'd say that Rose, Merion and the USGA won, the Philly fans were good sports to put up with tough parking, etc., but all-in-all it was a success.

In 10 or 15 years, will the Open come back to Merion? I hope so. It's really a special course and it proved itself to be the "longest short course" or the shortest long course" in the world.

BTW, Dan Jenkins tweets were priceless all weekend. If you don't follow him, then do it right awsay and go back and look at the last few days. You'll chuckle time after time. "Phil just made a 2 at 10 which is what Philly fans call an Iggle."

Tiger probably would retch at this comparison, but now that it's clear he's the No. 1 player in the world but still not much of a factor at the majors, he reminds me of one guy: Greg Norman. What do you think of that?

Well....except for the 14 majors, you mean?

You can't have a nice balanced family life and win a lot of majors. If you want to win majors consistently, you have to be like Michael Jordan and be the biggest jerk to everyone. This is why gracious Venus Williams wins much less than her overwhelmingly arrogant sister Serena. But ask me who I would want to meet, it is always people like Venus and Phil. Just don't be surprised when someone with a killer instinct actually beats them.

Oh, and what about that guy named Jack Nicklaus?

He disproves any and ALL "nice guys finish last" arguments.

Thought you folks might like to see the all-time list of majors winners. Phil is now T16 of players since WWI.

Nicklaus...18. Woods...14. Walter Hagen...11. Player...9. Hogan...9 (4 US Opens). Watson 8 (5 British Opens). Palmer (no PGA Champ). Sam Snead 7 (like Mickelson, no US Open). Sarazen 7, Bobby Jones 7 (doesn't include his wins in amateur events like US Amateur). Vardon 7, Faldo 6. BNelson 5, Seve Ballesteros 5. Peter Thomson 5 (all British Opens).

At 4 with Phil are Ray Floyd, Els, Bobby Locke, plus  oldsters. At 3, Demaret, Casper, Irwin, Boros, PStewart, Harrington, Nick Price, Larry Nelson. (Always liked tough little Larry Nelson.)   

 

Great piece on Mickelson this morning. Do his fellow pros feel the same way about him as most of the fans? Justin Rose was certainly articulate in his gracious high praise for Phil, the man, in his post-tournament remarks. Is that shared by most of the tour members? I get the feeling that they admire Phil, the man, but shake their head about Phil, the golfer. And with Tiger it's the reverse. True?

Fifteen years ago you could have found a large, perhaps even a very large number of players and media who referred to Phil as "Eddie Haskell," the phony teenager in "Leave It To Beaver." And, some days, I'd have been one of them.

Even 10 years ago you'd have found people, including me, who wondered if Phil's image was at odds with some of the Las Vegas high-stakes places he liked to gamble. Hey, have a ball. It's his life. It's legal. But he didn't act the role of A Player on Tour, so it seemed a little disingenuous.

But in the last 10 years, I'd say that Phil is about as close to who he seems to be as you'd ask of a public figure. And his fellow players have that view of him, too -- now. (And since before he won his '04 Masters.)       

Tom, That was the most honest and thorough press conference by a non-winner (I refuse to call him a loser) I've ever seen. The man is not only self aware, but willing to share his unvarnished thoughts with the public. I've long been a fan of his, but that's mainly been because he provides the most drama, win or lose. This week, in defeat, he provided great theater but also took responsibility for the (bad) outcome in a way you rarely see from athletes. I hope he wins one some day - Pinehurst next year? - but even if he doesn't, he has a lot to be proud of.

I agree. I tore up a lot of what I had written and started over after that press conference.You never know when "authentic" is going to run up and smack you in the face. But you have to salute it.

Jack was always wonderful -- but then how often did he really suffer, even if Watson did chip in on him at Pebble and beat his 65-66 weekend with 65-65 in the British Open.

And Greg Norman was gracious when he had brutal defeats. After Tway holed out from the trap at 18 in the PGA to beat Norman, he and I were, by accident, alone walking toward the locker room. His wife was from Washington, he'd won the Kemper Open twice and I knew him well back then. I said something about what a tough way it was to lose, especially after some of his other loses, but that if he'd come talk about it, it would really be appreciated by reporters (yeah, like me) and maybe wouldn't hurt him either. He was probably going to steak to the press anyway, I assume. But he sure was steamed in that "NOT AGAIN!" moment. Whatever -- I'm glad he gathered himself and did. 

 

A lot has been made of some of the Heat's match up problems in the Finals, but to me, here's their biggest match up problem of all: LeBron James against anybody. When his teammates are faltering, he needs to step up and he doesn't. Think of Magic Johnson moving to center in the deciding game in 1980 and scoring 42 points, or Dr. J averaging 35 points a game in the ABA Finals or Jordan scoring 35 points in the first half of Game 1 against Portland in '92. If LeBron wants to know why people still question his true greatness, it's because he doesn't do those kinds of things in moments like he's facing now.

I see what you mean. Magic, Jordan, Bird, Bill Russell and a few others had an amazing sense of WHAT was needed and exactly WHEN it was needed to turn the tide of a tough game against a fairly evenly matched foe in a championship series. LeBron, it seems to me, Just Plays. He doesn't have any special intuition into what's needed. He plays greatly, but he doesn't always sense the game greatly.

Right now, I just think the Spurs are the better team. Maybe clearly better. The Heat have one great, great individual player -- James -- who doesn't always perfectly fit the team or the moment, but he IS great. And they have two very good players in Wade and Bosh who aren't as good as they once were. The Spurs have FIVE real players, and maybe a sixth when Gary Neal is on. If Ginobili is back on his game and Parker's hammy holds, then I think they can win one on the road. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are real players, not just role players like (noble) Ray Allen, who had 21 last night.

Sure, Heat can win two at home. But I don't think they will. This is probably The End for the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker group as NBA winners. I think they pull it together like the '69 Celts (ancient history reference) when Russell wasn't his younger self (just as Duncan isn't) but his supporting cast was better than in his glory days and -- together -- they got it done against a three-super-star Laker team with Wilt, West and Baylor. Those three Lakers averaged over 70 points, 36 rebounds and 15 assist per game among the three of them.

Boz - Despite Davey Johnson's and Mike Rizzo's unwavering support, this isn't the first season Rick Eckstein has faced criticism from the team's fan base. The 2013 Nats seem way too dependent on the long ball to score runs, and yesterday was the latest example of a strong pitching effort squandered (this time by the team's baffling ineptitude with RISP). By all accounts, Eckstein's character and work ethic are above reproach, but the results simply aren't there. Do your eyes see a trend of at bats by poorly coached/poorly prepared hitters, or is this all on the players' lack of execution? Is it fair to blame Eckstein for the team's offensive woes?

It's awful overanxious execution by hitters.

It's not the hitting coach that swings at third strike sliders in the other batter's box but take fastballs down the middle.

The guys who have been poor-to-awful in the clutch relative to the number of men they've had on base -- yes, you can find that stat at baseballreference -- are Werth (driven in 15 runs with 85 runners on base for him), Bernadina (4 rbi, 53 men on base), Lombardozzi, Span, Moore and Tracy.

I'm surprised but Desmond, Zimmerman and LaRoche are all slightly above league average in rbi-per-plate-appearance once you factor in the number of men they've had on base. They haven't had GOOD years, just not bad ones.

When Harper gets back  -- and it's clear he's the best and most confidence offensive player on the team, even at 20 -- then we'll get more answers. Maybe a lot more. 

Hi Tom: In a brief segment during last night's game ESPN noted the Nats' puny ranking in several key statistical categories and questioned the constant refrain 'we'll be better when we're all healthy,' noting that other teams suffer injuries but figure out how to plug the gap(s) and move on. What is your sense of the mental fragility of this club? It sure feels like they're lacking in innate 'hop on my shoulders, I'll carry us' leadership. Has the call up of Anthony Rendon emptied the big league-ready talent in their system? Kinda looking like Jayson Werth's Game 4 dinger last fall may have been the high water mark for this group.

The Nats team leaders need to step up. The performance by the 3-4-5-6 hitters yesterday in clutch spots was awful.  Z'man and Werth are on $125M deals. Desmond was an All-Star last year. LaRoche just got $24M. What are they waiting for -- a 20-year-old to come back and carry their poor little overburdened selves to a mighty four runs a game.

Let 'em get "Dibbled" some. They've earned it.

That doesn't mean they won't get it turned around. I think they probably will. But it does mean that hitters who have a long track record have produced absolutely lousy results. Next-to-last in runs per game at 3.49?! That's a total joke number. Only ahead of the Marlins in offense?

Go on and kick 'em. They know they deserve it.

Hey, don't worry, the fans in Philly will do the kicking FOR you the next three nights if they don't hit.

John Lannan is just the kind of nibbling lefty who has driven them crazy and gotten them to expand the strike zone all season. But they know him inside out. Should be an interesting grudge match. And for Lannan it is a grudge -- no, not against his ex-teammates, but just on general grounds that he was viewed as expendable. You know, so you could give $13M to Dan Haren. Come on, I get to be snarky once in a while, too. It wouldn't kill Haren to pitch like he had a burr under his saddle. You gotta love the sidebars on Lannan-Haren tonight.

I was excited that he won, but it seems like a lot of people are upset he won. Your thoughts? Have you previously stated how you would have voted if you had one?

I think I'd have voted for Ovechkin while acknowledging that it was an odd year for MVP candidates. Ovi led the league in goals, switched positions for the good of his team, reclaimed much of his former stature and was at the center of the playoff run that won them the SW. But it's hard to jump up and down and wave your arms after the way they lost Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs and Ovechkin couldn't find the net.

Deserved, imo. But in a weak class. Sometimes you get lucky. Nothing wrong with that.

Have you heard anything new regarding the MASN deal, or is still on Bud Selig's desk for a decision?

We should hear something by 2051, I'd think.

Glaciers melt faster than Bud decides.

Unfortunately, much faster.

Is it possible that the Spurs are just a better team, that the sum of the parts form a better whole? Or is it more likely that Miami loves being home and turning it on when they want? Because the seesaw nature of this thing tells me the Heat just might prefer having their backs against the wall. Sort of like great writing comes only at deadline.

Spurs look like a better team on the whole, if you could play a best-of-11 series on a neutral court.

But the Heat (sometimes) love the spotlighgt. Except when things go against them in that spotlight.

Really looking forward to it. FWIW, I bet the Spurs will show up for both games, even if they lose Game 6. Some would fold. Doubt they will/would. Could be a great Game 7 if it gets there.

According to the USGA website, amateurs can have their expenses (including caddies but also meals, travel, etc.) covered by a parent or guardian. They can also have their expenses covered by anyone as long as reimbursement occurs through the local golf association, which must ensure that the player is reimbursed only for actual expenses and not receive anything over actual costs.

Thanks. (We got great chatters.)

When a QB runs the option, the defense is supposed to blow up the QB even if he gets rid of the ball at the last instant. It isn't even a late hit when your QB is effectively a running back. This is what I never understood, why the Shanahi would allow defenders a free shot on their prized possession.

In the NFL, RGIII can slide. But he's not very good at it -- at all. Needs lessons from Nats coaches.

A few weeks ago, Bryce Harper was talking about why he came into a base in a particular way. I've forgotten the details. But he concluded by saying, "I can only slide on one side. I don't know how to do it the other way (on the other hip)."

Gasp!

Then I realized I never really knew how to slide decently on my right hip, only the left. But I thought that every BIG LEAGUER knew. Wrong again.

I'm talking about the Tiger Woods of today, not of the past. If he's just a great player who's basically better than everybody else, but doesn't show that at the majors, isn't that what Greg Norman did?

Okay, I got you now. Sorry. An interesting point. If his current 0-for-20 ever gets to 0-for-30 I bet you'll be able to say, "I said that first. Now everybody's saying it." But 0-for-30 is a fairly long way off.

 

What is the timetable on Harper's return?

The way I heard it, they expect a return to the lineup 14 days after the initial cortisone shot if all goes normally. Give or take a day. If he's not back on that timetable you'll know it's been slow to heal.

... and you have to face your old team the Nats, which starting pitcher would you hope is on the mound? How happy is he that Haren is up there. And why is Haren pitching again? Isn't about time to give someone else a try? Can Krol be a starter?

Sometimes the really important stuff for the long-term gets hidden under the short-term noise.

When we look back on the first 10 weeks of '13 in a few years, the only two words we may remember are: ANTHONY RENDON. Whose line in his last 13 games is: .435/.509/.630. Of course he can't keep that up. Duh. (He has a .514 batting-average-on-balls-in-play in that streak. But even his outs have frequently been hard hit.) However, this is what he looks like when he is hot -- VERY HOT. That is extremely good news. Some hitters NEVER get this hot.

I mention this because you brought up a fascinating name: Krol. Too soon to know, but if he's a first rate lefty reliever (in the Morse trade) and Rendon continues to be comfortable in MLB, then in August-September we may be talking about the missing "key pieces" -- maybe Abad, too -- that arrived under the radar during the .500 doldrums of June.

Remember when .500 was a GOAL, not "the doldrums!?"

Obviously a naive question but why should the pitcher (or goalie) be blamed for a 2-1 loss but exalted for a 3-2 win? Why do pitcher's statistics even have wins and losses?

Some of the new stat folks absolutely agree with you and judge by FIP, xFIP and other pitching metrics that are "fielder independent" or run-support independent, while almost entirely ignoring W-L record.

Think that's it for today. Feel like I missed a subject -- there were so many good ones today. Thanks for all the questions.

How good is Buck Showalter? he seems to have the magic touch. Players love him. He knows how to use the pen. They are 40-30 with record poor production from DH spot, inconsistent rotation. He and Duquette have really resurrected their baseball careers. Hope he gets to stay all the way through this time and actually raise the trophy.

THAT'S what I forgot!

Buck and Dan. You have it right.

If you watch the O's offense, and I do, it makes it kind of hard to switch back to the Nats offense. But I do.

At least the O's attack reminds you of how a whole LINEUP functions together, not just one hitter, then another hitter, coming up in what feels like a random futile sequence. It'll change. NOBODY is this bad.

The question is: When it changes, how MUCH will it change? Just somewhat better? Or a deluge? Both are possible.

So long, thanks again.

Congratulations on entering the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame last week! It was great meeting both you and Wendy. Just wish there had more time to talk. Do you think folks were surprised at how well Merion worked? Old school course -- tough, but fair. Is that enough to bring the open back sooner than 30 years?

Thanks very much. It was a fun night.

I think the critics of Merion, who predicted 62s and 63s, or said that the Open would never come back (or shouldn't have been there in such a tiny jewel box of a course), were more than surprised. They were probably shocked. 

How much of Rendon's hitting is a reflection of his talent, and how much of it is a product of teams not having a book on him yet? Certainly he's not a .350 hitter, but is he a .300-.310 hitter?

So far, minors to Arizona Fall League to spring training to MLB, Rendon's OPS at each stop has ranged from .939 (minors) to over 1.100.

It's a limited sample.

But it sure looks like a pattern.

A .300-.310 hitter is a LOT. But you are allowed think those thoughts. Maybe not for all of this year, but in his mature years.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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