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All five of these teams have a realistic shot at winning the division.

(No, that is not a misprint. Yes, I am picking the Mets.)

5. Washington Nationals (77-85)

Position players Pitchers
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos
CF Roger Bernadina
BH Bryce Harper
UT Mark DeRosa
IF Steve Lombardozzi
1B Chris Marrero
C Jesus Flores
OF Rick Ankiel

RH Stephen Strasburg
LH Gio Gonzalez
RH Jordan Zimmermann
RH Edwin Jackson
LH John Lannan
RH Drew Storen
RH Tyler Clippard
RH Brad Lidge
LH Sean Burnett
RH Henry Rodriguez
LH Tom Gorzelanny
RH Ryan Perry
RH Chien-Ming Wang
LH Ross Detwiler
RH Craig Stammen

This is the trendy sleeper pick. Unfortunately, somebody's gotta finish last, and I am not impressed by the Nationals' position players.

I know people are excited about the Nats' revamped starting pitchers, but they don't really excite me either. Between Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmermann, there's serious upside, but there's serious downside too. Gonzalez mastered the art of effective wildness in a pitchers' park last year, but his ERA away from Oakland was 3.62. Edwin Jackson has had the HIT ME gene forever. Zimmermann conquered his own hittability issues last year, and although I'd consider him the safest bet of these three, he's only succeeded in the majors once.

Stephen Strasburg, of course, is the star of this rotation. For all we know, he may be the best pitcher alive. Strasburg's major-league stats to date are ridiculous: 92 innings, a .207 average against, 116 K, 19 BB, and a 2.54 ERA. On the other hand, I think he's benefited a bit from his novelty and aura, and although it's unfair to call him injury-prone based on one UCL injury, I'd still consider his injury risk above-average. He is also on a 160-inning limit for the season.

The offensive stars are Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. Zimmerman lost two months to an abdominal strain last year and lost a step when he returned, hitting a mere .289/.355/.443 with below-average fielding by the numbers. The Nats probably need better from him. Morse finally blossomed into the power hitter the Mariners thought they had seven years ago as the Nats' everyday left fielder. Moving him to first when Harper arrives will help the Nats' pitchers out immensely, but in the meantime, he's a defensive liability. Probably Washington's best hitter, though.

Beyond them? I don't see it. Ian Desmond was rushed to the majors, and almost all the projection systems have him south of a .700 OPS. He's their leadoff hitter. Danny Espinosa hits like a switch-hitting J.P. Arencibia. Centerfielder Roger Bernadina has dominated the high minors at times, but he's not an outstanding fielder or runner, he hit .243/.301/.362 last year, and his performance in AAA wasn't much better. Want to bet on a Jayson Werth rebound? Is he really that much better than Jason Bay? Adam LaRoche as a first baseman? Seriously? Of course, they have one ace up their sleeve in Bryce Harper. But when was the last time a 19-year-old hitter carried a team to the playoffs?

I predict that the Nationals' offense amounts to a two-man team and that their starting pitching beyond Strasburg falters. That still makes for a damn good two-man team, but in this division, it's not nearly enough. Washington lands in fifth place; their charge up the standings begins in earnest next year.

4. Miami Marlins (83-79)

Position players Pitchers
SS Jose Reyes
CF Emilio Bonifacio
3B Hanley Ramirez
RF Giancarlo Stanton
LF Logan Morrison
1B Gaby Sanchez
C John Buck
2B Omar Infante
OF Chris Coghlan
IF Donnie Murphy
CI Greg Dobbs
OF Bryan Petersen
C Brett Hayes

RH Josh Johnson
LH Mark Buehrle
RH Ricky Nolasco
RH Anibal Sanchez
RH Carlos Zambrano
RH Heath Bell
RH TAFKA Leo Nunez
LH Mike Dunn
LH Randy Choate
RH Edward Mujica
RH Steve Cishek
RH Ryan Webb
LH Wade LeBlanc
RH Jose Ceda

Another trendy team. New shortstop! New lefty pitcher! New manager! New conventional closer! New name for superstar slugger! New accessible downtown park with a roof! Carlos Zambrano! What excitement.

Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison make for an above-average lineup. I'm expecting a rebound from Ramirez, a rebound the other way from Reyes, a consolidation year from the ridiculously powerful Stanton, a standard-issue .790 OPS from Sanchez and a breakout from Morrison. Meanwhile, Emilio Bonifacio will pester pitchers and try his hand at playing center, Omar Infante will slap singles, and John Buck will hit homers. But on balance, I don't think this team is an offensive juggernaut unless two of Reyes, Ramirez and Stanton have good years by their standards.

I'm not buying the pitching here, either. Granted, Josh Johnson is fantastic when healthy. I'm discounting my expectations for him a bit since he's still battling his mysterious shoulder and elbow injuries. Mark Buehrle is a metronome, inning-eating, contact-pitching machine, who should benefit from Miami's defense, but probably not much from the AL/NL switch, no? Ricky Nolasco, like Jackson, is a FIP darling with the HIT ME curse; his lowest ERA over the past three years has been 4.51. (Yes, Virginia, throwing meatballs is a sustainable skill.) Anibal Sanchez took a giant leap forward last year to strike out 24% of hitters, and if Johnson goes down at any point, Sanchez is going to be stuck carrying the rotation. Carlos Zambrano is a wild card, particularly on a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. This looks like an average rotation to me. And I won't bother making fun of the Heath Bell signing, because even for a relatively superficial division preview like this, that's way too easy.

Defense? A few question marks. How does Hanley Ramirez handle the switch to third? Is Bonifacio, who's never played CF full-time, the next Michael Bourn or a deer-in-the-headlights klutz? Marlins Park is cavernous - 344-384-416-392-335 around the outfield may be bigger than Mets Park was last year - and there will be a lot of unoccupied space in the outfield between Morrison and Stanton. Bonifacio's adjustment to center will be crucial.

There is no question that between Reyes, Stanton, Johnson and Ramirez the Marlins have as much raw superstar talent as anybody in the division. If they all produce peak seasons this year, the Marlins may very well open up a huge lead in the first two months while Philly and Atlanta nurse their injuries. If Johnson struggles, though, the burden on the Miami offense will be enormous, and I'm very hesitant to bet on returning pitchers. I'll go pessimistic and call an even run differential for the Marlins, and give them four bonus wins for their quick-strike offense. In this division, that gets you a one-way ticket to fourth place.

3. Atlanta Braves (88-74)

Position players Pitchers
CF Michael Bourn
LF Martin Prado
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
2B Dan Uggla
1B Freddie Freeman
RH Jason Heyward
SS Tyler Pastornicky
OF Matt Diaz
4C Eric Hinske
IF Andrelton Simmons
IF Jack Wilson
C David Ross
OF Jose Constanza

(RH Tim Hudson)
RH Jair Jurrjens
(RH Tommy Hanson)
RH Brandon Beachy
LH Mike Minor
RH Randall Delgado
RH Julio Teheran
RH Craig Kimbrel
LH Jonny Venters
LH Eric O'Flaherty
RH Kris Medlen
RH Arodys Vizcaino
RH Anthony Varvaro
RH Cristhian Martinez
RH Cory Gearrin

The good news: The Braves are drowning in excellent pitching prospects. The bad news: They're going to need that depth right away, because Tommy Hanson's shouldercussion makes him a question mark, and Tim Hudson's out until the end of April with a back injury.

Jair Jurrjens is one of my favorite players. He's one of the best in the business at keeping hitters off balance; over 702 career innings he has a HR/fly rate of 7.4%, a BABIP of .280, and a 3.40 ERA. Brandon Beachy asserted himself as a dominant if inefficient strikeout machine, which is not really a problem when you're handing the ball to the O'Flaherty/Venters/Kimbrel axis of late-inning doom. Hard-throwing lefty Mike Minor showed he too could miss bats in the majors last year, but got tattooed by the bats he didn't miss and ended up with a 4.14. Highly-touted prospect Julio Teheran cleaned up the International League a year ago at age 20, though his 20.7% K/8.1% BB weren't quite as amazing as his surface stats; he was ordinary in the majors. The Braves seem committed to handling Teheran carefully, so less-touted 22-year-old Randall Delgado may beat him out for the last rotation spot.

The lineup doesn't look terrifying on paper, but it's balanced. Don't sleep on Prado or Heyward, proven players coming off lousy years. McCann is the closest thing to a sure-thing catcher in baseball. Jones' command of the strike zone took a hit last year, but he still hit .275/.344/.470, and he still plays a competent if below-average 3B. He's retiring after 2012; he'll lose some time to knee meniscus surgery early on, but I expect him to perform well in his swansong. And I've been telling myself for four straight years that this is the year Dan Uggla turns into a pumpkin, but it just keeps not happening. Meanwhile, Freddie Freeman held down first base at age 21 (.282/.346/.448) after demolishing AAA at age 20; I wouldn't count on a step forward this year, but he sure sounds like a relatively safe bet for this year and potential future star.

Last year's acquisition of Michael Bourn was inspired. Turner Field has very deep power alleys and favors doubles hitters. Bourn, who had been patrolling the enormous centerfield in Houston the past few years, is extremely good at taking doubles away. He's no slouch at the plate, either.

When the Braves get to full strength, they may fight it out with the Phillies for the best run prevention in the division. They've got much more depth on the pitching side than any of their competitors, which makes them an attractive pick. It would also make for a fitting, storybook end to Chipper's career if they made the playoffs. This is a really, really good team, and unless all the young pitchers crater together, they'll survive their early struggles and make noise in the playoff race.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)

Position players Pitchers
SS Jimmy Rollins
3B Placido Polanco
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence
1B Ty Wigginton
LF John Mayberry
C Carlos Ruiz
2B Freddy Galvis
(1B Ryan Howard)
(2B Chase Utley)
LF Juan Pierre
DH Jim Thome
OF Domonic Brown
OF Laynce Nix
C Brian Schneider

RH Roy Halladay
LH Cliff Lee
LH Cole Hamels
RH Vance Worley
RH Joe Blanton
RH Jonathan Papelbon
LH Antonio Bastardo
RH Jose Contreras
RH Chad Qualls
RH Kyle Kendrick
RH Michael Stutes
RH David Herndon

Arms against atrophy. They've still got the best 1-2-3 pitching punch in recent memory, but for Halladay, Lee and Hamels, carrying the Phils' aging and bruised offense to the playoffs is going to be a very tall order. Losing Ryan Howard's big scary bat was bad enough. Losing Roy Oswalt to free agency and replacing him with Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick is definitely a step backwards. But losing Chase Utley, perhaps the most underrated player of this generation, will be big trouble if it lasts more than a couple weeks. Utley is a reliably outstanding fielder at a scarce position, a smart baserunner, and a hitter who can deliver walks, average and power. He's been the key to their offense for years. But he's slowing down, both of his knees are injured, and he may open his second straight season on the disabled list.

In the absence of Howard and Utley, this looks like a very weak lineup. They'll field well, but Victorino-Pence-Wigginton is a 3-4-5 punch worthy of the Astros. It looks like the Phils are going to have to battle through some scrappy, low-scoring games early on. That may be difficult in their home park, which favors the longball; in other words, it doesn't exactly favor their Opening Day roster. A contribution from powerful leftfielder John Mayberry would go a long way to help. Or from Domonic Brown. Or from returning hero Jim Thome. The Phils have certainly done their diligence in finding plausible short-term contributors; the challenge will be finding someone who can get on a hot streak early and carry the team. Easier said than done.

Fortunately, their rotation remains extremely strong. They retain two of the very best in Halladay and Lee, plus a two-time all-star in Hamels who will definitely be motivated for his walk year. Their protege Vance Worley threw 131 innings with a 3.02 ERA, which is an accomplishment in Philly's claustrophobic park; Worley may well be the key to the Phillies' season. The pitchers are backed up by solid fielding - Rollins, Victorino and Ruiz all handle crucial positions very well. "#5 starter" and "middle relief behind Papelbon" don't look quite so strong, and if the big three make fewer than 80 starts the Phils' season will be on life support. Still, I like their run prevention better than anyone else's in the NL.

Will it be enough? I say no. If I knew Utley and Howard would return to full strength I'd probably pick the Phils, but I don't. They're still a pitching-and-defense juggernaut, but no longer an offensive juggernaut too, and everyone else in the division has improved. Philly is still the team to beat, but they're spotting the division a huge head start. I doubt they will catch up.

1. New York Mets (90-72)

Position players Pitchers
CF Andres Torres
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
RF Lucas Duda!
LF Jason Bay
C Josh Thole
SS Ruben Tejada
OF Scott Hairston
IF Ronny Cedeno
UT Justin Turner
C Mike Nickeas
OF Mike Baxter

LH Johan Santana
RH Mike Pelfrey
RH R.A. Dickey
LH Jon Niese
RH Dillon Gee
RH Frank Francisco
RH Jon Rauch
RH Ramon Ramirez
LH Tim Byrdak
RH Manny Acosta
RH Bobby Parnell
RH Pedro Beato
RH D.J. Carrasco
RH Josh Stinson

The Mets' lineup may be short on brand names, but trust me: this team is going to hit. Start at the tough side of the defensive spectrum. Ruben Tejada, who last year put up a .360 OBP with average SS defense at age 21, is already the second coming of Marco Scutaro. Maybe the pressure of replacing Reyes goes to his head, but on paper you can't name 15 better shortstops. Second baseman Daniel Murphy hit .320/.362/.448 in 423 PA last year. Catcher Josh Thole is a career .276/.350/.356 hitter with a career 11% strikeout rate. None of these guys get any buzz whatsoever, perhaps because they don't hit homers and consequently avoid the fantasy baseball radar. That's fine - homers are overrated. The Mets may very well get .350 OBPs from all three of the toughest positions to fill. Who else can say that?

Three of the Mets' four corners are occupied by high-upside question marks. The left side guys are righty power hitters stuck in ruts. The Mets swear Citi Field ruined Jason Bay (a fence-scraping homer machine moving to a park where there's no fence to scrape) and David Wright (crushed by the weight of 30-HR expectations in a HR graveyard). This is Wright's age-29 season, and his .254/.345/.427 last year was his worst single-season output to date by far. Throw in his declining defense, and Wright has been a fairly ordinary player two years running. These are the two players who stand to benefit most from the fences moving in. As for first baseman and folk hero Ike Davis, his breakout season at first was short-circuited by a freak ankle injury and by valley fever. At full strength, he's probably an above-average first baseman with the bat, which is saying something. Then again, we should know by now not to underestimate the impact of mystery diseases.

The other cornerman is right fielder Lucas Duda, who I'm convinced is going to be one of 2012's breakout stars. He's the Mets' version of Morse right down to the ghastly outfield D and the potent offense. Duda's a late bloomer: in his entire college career at USC he hit the grand total of 11 homers. But in 455 plate appearances in AAA, he's hit 27 longballs and put up a 1.000 OPS. Over his career he's tended to need a while to find himself at each new level, but he's always figured it out. Everything you read about him suggests he's one of those guys who's a bit unsure of himself and needs to see himself succeed before he can really assert hismelf. But he's ultra-talented; he's got a short, powerful, authoritative swing and a good sense of the strike zone. After an awful 2010 debut, Duda hit .292/.370/.482 last year, and for 2012 I'd take the "over" on an .852 OPS without hesitation.

So, yes. I believe this team is going to hit. Run prevention will be another story.

The Mets' pitching was atrocious last year. Their staff combined for an ERA+ of 89, second-worst in the NL. Johan Santana is reportedly in midseason form, and he's put up ERAs in the low 3s in Queens. The Mets missed him terribly last year, as their best pitcher was a 37-year-old knuckleballer. Behind R.A. Dickey, the Mets relied on Dillon Gee, hittable lefty K artists Chris Capuano (now with the Dodgers) and Jonathon Niese, and the unquittable Mike Pelfrey, who looks like an ace, walks like an ace, sounds like he leads like an ace, doesn't know where the ball is going, yet has such live stuff that he always ends up above replacement level despite his limitations. The less said about their bullpen the better. Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez have been airlifted in to help out. They should be the Mets' best relievers by far.

Defense? Tejada and Murphy should be competent; Davis' gold glove should cancel out Wright's decline. The outfield will be another story: Bay is a first baseman in left, Duda is a first baseman (if not a DH) in right, and even after the fences moved in, Willets Point remains a pretty spacious park. To cover for Bay and Duda, the Mets shrewdly traded Angel Pagan (who lost a step last year) for Andres Torres. Torres figures to make this year's outfield more respectable than the 2011 edition, and I'm sure the pitchers won't mind.

If the Mets can get their run prevention from "embarrassingly bad" to "competent," they're going to be competitive, and given Santana's return and a revamped bullpen, I don't think that is asking too much.

Bold Prediction: Predicting any division is a sucker bet. Well, maybe not the AL Central. But all five of these teams have a legitimate shot at bringing home the NL East crown, so I'm going to pick the team with the longest Vegas odds. The Mets bludgeon everyone into submission early, jump out to a five-game lead by Victoria Day, and hold off a late charge from the Phillies and Braves to win the division.
NL East 2012 | 17 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 02:45 PM EDT (#253106) #
Danny Espinosa reaches base a helluva lot more often than JP Arencibia does.  He walks quite a bit more and led the league in HBP to put up an OBP of .323 last year.  That was above league average.  He's a fine hitter for a middle infielder, more like Kelly Johnson than like Arencibia. 
Alex Obal - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 02:48 PM EDT (#253107) #
Yeah, but a switch-hitting Arencibia would always have the platoon edge, and J.P had a .310 OBP against LHP last year. </sleazy> You've gotta lean on a few half-truths to defend picking the Mets to win the division.
Chuck - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 04:32 PM EDT (#253113) #
My prediction: Alex is going to spend a great deal of time defending his bold choice for division winner. Now, he didn't mention it specifically, but I assume that a Tom Seaver comeback is part of the calculus. And not the lumpy, middle aged Tom Seaver currently walking the planet. No, the time machine (hot tub or otherwise) 9 WAR version airlifted from 1971. And Jon Matlack wouldn't hurt either. Or Choo Choo Coleman.
Alex Obal - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 04:58 PM EDT (#253114) #
While I admit that a Seaver return is totally implausible, I actually pictured something much simpler. Mike Pelfrey is going to steal Seaver's powers.
electric carrot - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 05:17 PM EDT (#253115) #
I like the boldness of the Mets prediction.  I agree that both the Mets and now Atlanta are being dismissed to a degree by current prognosticators.  I agree both are better than how they are being represented.  Still 90 wins for the Mets  would take a "miracle." 

Richard S.S. - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 05:17 PM EDT (#253116) #
The Fantasy List (Official MLB Fantasy Baseball 2012 Preview; Lindy's Sports Fantasy Baseball 2012; Athlon Sports Baseball 2012 Preview) doesn't even mention Ruben Tejada at all.   Before you hype a team, see where the Team's players rank on Fantasy Lists, it can be such a shock.
Magpie - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 05:57 PM EDT (#253117) #
doesn't even mention Ruben Tejada at all.

What, did they all think Jose Reyes was coming back?
Mick Doherty - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 06:04 PM EDT (#253119) #

He is also on a 160-inning limit for the season.

Just a thought, but if Strasburg is leading the league in ERA when he reaches 160 IP -- not at all implausible -- I'd guess the Nats will find him those extra six outs he'd need for the title. 8-P

Oh, and the Metsies winning 90? Um, OK. I'm gonna set the over-under on "How far short will the Mets fall of a certain prognosticator's bold-means-wrong-sometimes claim?" at 29.5.

cybercavalier - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 08:24 PM EDT (#253125) #
A wild idea: Doc Halladay will be in his last year of contract in 2013, while Travis D'Arnaud would be prospected to at least start playing in the major league. Would a trade of Doc for D'Aranud work in preseason 2013 or later ? Especially if the Jays can make the 2012 postseason: "things" would come to full circle.
Glevin - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 10:45 PM EDT (#253126) #
Mets? Don't think so. They won 77 games last year and lost their two best hitters from last season. Yes, they lost Reyes, but they also had 419 excellent PAs from Beltran. Their total WAR for their team was 16.8 and Beltran and Reyes were responsible for 9.2 of that. Bounce-back seasons from Wright and Davis are possible some players like Duda and Murphy might hit, but this is still a mediocre offense. And their pitching? Worst in the division. Who's the Mets best pitcher? Santana? Where would rank him among starters in the NL East? He'd be a 3 or for on any other team in the division. Yeah, he has upside, but so does Julio Tehren and he's Atlanta's #7 starter. Their bullpen is the same back end that the Jays had last year. It's acceptable but not exactly top notch. Mets are the team most likely to finish in last.
92-93 - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 11:01 PM EDT (#253127) #
April Fools is next week.

I get the inclination to be different, but come on. Last year Mick was telling us the Yankees will finish in 4th, now this. If this wasn't Batter's Box I'd assume the writers were trolling for page views.

Very well written piece, however, and I do appreciate that Alex at least made an effort to explain his convictions.
robertdudek - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 11:15 PM EDT (#253128) #
Mets have less than a 0.1% chance of winning this division. Even money they finish last in this division.
Alex Obal - Saturday, March 24 2012 @ 11:48 PM EDT (#253129) #
Plate appearances and OPS for selected members of the 2011 Mets (reductionism sucks, do what I say not what I do yada yada; * - still on the team; ignore the PAs used on even worse September callups I can't be bothered to list):

SS Jose Reyes 586 (.877)
RF/CF Angel Pagan 532 (.694)
2B/UT Justin Turner* 487 (.690)
CF Carlos Beltran 419 (.904)
RF (effectively 1B) Willie Harris 283 (.668)
C Ronny Paulino 248 (.663)
OF Jason Pridie 236 (.679)
1B Nick Evans 194 (.718)

Say those numbers add up to about .755 in 2985 PA. Now, effectively, say 500 of those PA go to Davis (149 last year), 300 to Duda (347), 600 to Torres (0), 200 to Tejada (376), 150 to Murphy (423), 200 to Wright (447), 125 to Thole (386), 125 to Nickeas (59), and the remaining 800+ to Bay, Turner, Scott Hairston, Mike Baxter, and whoever. Interesting to think about, no? What if 2010 Torres shows up?

If you're into appeals to authority, PECOTA has the Mets' run differential only 90 behind the projected division champ Braves'.
christaylor - Sunday, March 25 2012 @ 04:02 AM EDT (#253130) #
While the write-up was excellent (as these always are) but the prediction the Mets win the division... how shall I put this? This is fair, I think, I bet one admission of, "What was I thinking, at least that was good kool-aid?" (in July) against as many pictures of cuttlefish your heart desires is a bet I would take. I would cull the internet for many many pictures...

PHI -- easily over the Mets. Wouldn't be surprised by ATL ( at little more now for reasons stated) but to be concrete and put a number I am pretty sure I know I can win -- 50 cuttlefish to 1 on the field versus the Mets winning the division.

Again, well written,food for thought and I expect to take a trip from Boston down to Citi at some point this summer (stuck out my first summer here).
Richard S.S. - Sunday, March 25 2012 @ 01:37 PM EDT (#253134) #
Replace Bautista with Davis, replace Lawrie with McCoy and replace Romero with Laffey and Toronto still has a better team than New York Nitwits, er, Mets.
Alex Obal - Sunday, March 25 2012 @ 01:54 PM EDT (#253135) #
50 cuttlefish to 1 on the field versus the Mets winning the division.

I'd take this bet, but Dudek is already offering me at least 999...
robertdudek - Sunday, March 25 2012 @ 09:21 PM EDT (#253150) #
Pinnacle Sports is offering 68.66 to 1 on the Mets winning the NL East. That makes then the third longest shot to win a division title (guess the two ahead).
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