August 2009

I'm back to being connected to the Internet world, I'm not sure if that's good or bad. While I certainly do miss whatever brilliant, well-crafted snark is coming from the comments, it was kind of nice to be untethered from the digital world. 

As for the weekend, the Cubs pulled out 2 of 3 wins from the New York Mets - and with the Rockies getting swept  - sneak to 5.5 back in the Wild Card. Important thing to remember here is they managed to score one run versus Nelson Figueroa and couldn't sweep a team missing David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, John Maine, or J.J Putz. Zambrano, who seems to be getting advice from Alfonso Soriano on how to play with injuries and hurt your team, got lit up for 11 hits and 3 earned runs and couldn't make it out of the 4th against the Buffalo Bisons lineup. Color me unimpressed...

The Astros show up tonight and Michael Barrett's favorite ace takes the mound - Roy Oswalt. The Cubs counter with Rich Harden, who along with Aaron Heilman, did not get traded by today's deadline. I didn't really think the Twins would give up anything to grab Harden, they're just not a team to cough up prospects, but why Aaron Heilman is still wasting space is unfathomable.

Theriot, Bradley, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, Fox, Baker, Hill go tonight.

Some minor league and roster move info after the jump...

Apparently Alfonso Soriano's cranky left knee was bothering him enough during his outfield play this past Friday that his plans to get an elective MRI (magnetic resonance image) in a few weeks got moved up to Saturday morning since he wasn't going to start today. In this video interview he says it's been sore for four months but with (approximately) 40 games left why can't he keep playing with the same pain? The pain seems to bother him more when he runs (rather than when he hits) so it's affecting his limited outfield abilities and I expect it's been a factor regarding his on and mostly off offense this season too.

Soriano was in no hurry to get the MRI as recently as this week.  He originally expected to take the time to get it on their next day off, Sept 10th (after returning from the trip to NY and Pitt), but his limp became more noticeable after his game winning 3 run HR on Friday so they moved it up to Monday and when it was clear he couldn't start today they sent him for the test this morning.

Carrie Muskat from cubs.com reports that the MRI results just showed inflammation and the outfielder will likely get a cortisone shot (based on the manager's postgame comments) and be sidelined a few days. From the horses mouth, in the postgame interview, Lou Piniella said  the team orthopedic specialist (probably Dr. Gryzlo) will look at Soriano on Sunday, and he most likely will get a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain.

I watched not one second of Friday's affair. I managed about 10 minutes of Internet access and caught the 2-1 score, posted this premature comment and then later flipped on my XM radio to catch the final 5-2 win. The good news is the Cubs got a win and Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano went a combined 6/6 with 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 2 Runs Scored and 2 BB's. The bad news was the comedy of errors from the offensive heroes and the Cubs needing a dramatic come-from-behind win against a team missing their five best players.

Some links and notes after the jump...

You can't say that Jim Hendry isn't trying to still do his job. Reports came out today that Aaron Heilman and Rich Harden have both been claimed on waivers, Heilman definitely by an NL Team and Harden most likely by a pitching-starved NL team. Rosenthal's report says the Cubs have until Monday afternoon to complete a deal, but that seems longer than the normal 48 hour window to complete this type of transaction.

Heilman is owed about $270K on his contract this year, might as well just save it if you're the Cubs and let him go to whatever team claimed him if a deal can't be worked out. I highly doubt any team that did claim him was trying to block him from somebody, since you know, it would probably actually hurt most teams that he joined, so there must be some interest there or maybe some drunk GM'ing. Since the Cubs aren't going anywhere with Heilman on the team and they're not going to offer him arbitration this offseason, hopefully Hendry can take advantage of this opportunity and send Heilman on his merry way...where he can win a World Championship and then go broke in the offseason.

Rich Harden is owed about $1.2M on his deal, but his true value will be beyond this season. The Cubs could try and resign him to a long-term deal, although that's doubtful. With a pretty bare market for starting pitchers, Harden will likely snag some sort of multi-year deal, so offering him arbitration is a no-brainer and if he does happen to accept it, I'm sure not going to complain about getting him back in a Cubs uniform for 2010. If Hendry does work out a trade, he will have to get back something resembling two 1st/2nd round talents from whatever team claimed him and in this case, I could see the Giants trying to block the Dodgers here and they're probably not looking for starting pitching right now.

And while teams generally put the bulk of their roster through waivers during this time period, it's somewhat interesting that the Cubs waited until the end of August here to put one of their most tradeable pieces in Harden. If Hendry can squeeze out two top prospects, preferably at higher levels in the minors, he can avoid the arbitration and paperwork headache in the offseason, avoid any potential late season injury to Harden that we're always worried about and hypothetically pick up two prospects closer to the show. A prospect in the hand is worth two in the draft so to speak....

UPDATE: Bruce Levine has a source that says the Minnesota Twins put in a claim, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were awarded it. On cue,  Paul Sullivan says it was an NL team that won the claim but does not specify which team. Baseball Musings cites Andrew Kneeland saying it's probably the Rockies, but the link goes to the Paul Sullivan article which does not mention the Rockies at all, although the Rockies, Dodgers and Giants all had scouts at Harden's last game according to Levine's article.

The Cubs and Nationals battled to a 2-2 tie through 6 innings, before Milton Bradley drove in his third run of the night on a fielder's choice to score Koyie Hill in the bottom of the 7th. Bradley had homered earlier in the game for the Cubs first two runs. The Cubs piled on in the 8th with five runs and ended up winning easily 9-4. 38 games left to bear unless we luck out with some rainouts.

Following up yesterday's comments, Bradley claims he has no regrets signing with the Cubs, but says he dreads extra inning home games:

"...so I can be out there the least amount of time as possible and go home."

Not quite as poetic as "I'd play this game for free", now is it?

He goes on to talk about facing hatred on a a daily basis including at restaurants, but sarcastically doesn't believe it has anything to do with race.

"America doesn't believe in racism."

That one made me chuckle.

Then he pulls a little Stuart Smalley on us.

``I feel love for me, because I love me,'' he said. ``I look in the
mirror and go out there and play and feel love for my teammates and
love for the coaching staff and for myself.''

That one made me laugh out loud.

(Click on the thumbnail for the full size image)

Just when you think it couldn't get worse, the Cubs get absolutely spanked by the worst team in baseball at home.The wind appeared to be howling straight out tonight and the Cubs managed 6 runs, Josh Willingham managed 6 RBI's all by himself, including 2 HR's, 5 Runs scored and a 4 for 4 night with a walk. Z did hit a home run though (mild applause) and Milton Bradley went 4 for 4 himself with a home run and a walk and then decided it was another good moment to take some frustration out on the fans.

"It's hard to be comfortable when you don't get a hit, you get booed
every time," Bradley said. "When I go home and look in the mirror, I
like what I see. My family's there, and I have people I can talk to who
are supportive in spite of everything and all the adversity and hatred
you face on a daily basis. I'll be all right. I always have." 

A bunch of other fun news after the jump...

The Deadline for signing players selected in this past June's Rule 4 Draft ("1st-Year Player Draft") has passed, and the Cubs ended up signing 31 of their 50 picks (including their top 12 picks, and 14 of their top 15), although two of the players they signed (17th round pick RHP B. J. Dail and 23rd round pick OF Jeffrey Pruitt) had their contracts voided last month and are now free-agents.

The Cubs also signed two Non-Drafted Free-Agents (NDFA), but one (LHP Daley Cox) has already been released.

There is no deadline for signing college seniors who have exhausted their eligibilty, but the Cubs signed all of the college seniors they drafted this year.

Rosters for the Arizona Fall League should be announced sometime this week.

Hat tip to Bill Simmons twitter feed for the link, these 2 made me chuckle as well.

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To say the least, I'm not particularly motivated these days to write about the Cubs. The road trip disaster and the reality of the standings coupled with the anemic offense has pretty much put an end to the season. Never say never and all and Carlos Zambrano will be back this week, but I'm expecting nothing more than the same frustrating Cubs team the rest of the way. At 62-60, I figure 90 wins gets them in the picture and that means a 28-12 run over their last 40 and that still might not be enough for the wild card or the division. So as the season winds down, I'll probably be talking a lot about the new ownership and 2010 and the Chicago Bears. Live with it...

I did go to the game Saturday afternoon...happened to be the AngelFan Wife's birthday as well. I know how to treat the ladies. For her gift, I got her a washing machine...for Christmas I'm thinking a vacuum cleaner or a big screen TV.

Brief description of the day and photos after the jump...

Sorry about the rather epic error message at the top of the site, working on trying to isolate the problem which seems to be somewhere on line 174 of the database. Considering I haven't changed anything recently, not sure what's going on and unfortunately I've got a full day planned around the Cubs game and the Angel Fan Wife's birthday. I hope to get it fixed by tonight.

UPDATE 7:47 PM: I think it's fixed.

UPDATE #2 7:48 PM: I'm done with this season.

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Not for the major league team, but some of the lil' Cubs are making a push for minor league post-season glory.

AAA - Iowa Cubs

There are four divisions in the 16-team PCL and they play a full season, as opposed to some lower levels splitting their season into halves. The Iowa Cubs are making a bid for a second straight playoff appearance and trail the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals affiliate) by two games and the Nashville Sound (Brewers) by a game and a half as of this writing. Iowa will have 20 games to close the gap, 14 of them at home. The season ends on September 7th, so they'll have to deal with September call-ups raiding the roster. Don't be surprised if the Cubs make some minor league free agent signings to help them out, plus some Double A promotions.

AA: Tennessee Smokies

No surprise that a team with many of the 2008 Florida State League Champions would be doing well as a team at the next level. The Tennessee Smokies are tied with the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx (Mariners) atop the North Division thanks to a 5-game winning streak. There are 17 games left in the season and they finish with a 5-game set at West Tennessee.

Hi-A: Daytona Cubs

They finished the first half in second place, but 7.5 games back in their division. The second half has been unkind though and it doesn't look like a two-peat is going to happen as they're in last place, 14.5 out.

A - Peoria Chiefs

It was a strong 38-31 first half for the Chiefs, but that was only good for third place. They second half has gone even better though and they sit at 31-20 with a 3.5 game lead in the division. Carlos Zambrano pitches for them tonight in a rehab outing, probably the closest he'll get to post-season fever. The Chiefs have 18 games left on the year.

Lo-A: Boise

The good news is that Boise is in second place...the bad news is they're 7 games back and 4 games under .500. 

Some other Cubs-related notes after the jump...

Pinpointing the Cubs demise this year is worthy of a dissertation, but if I were to paint some broad strokes, I'd start - in order of importance -  with the overreaction to last year's playoff loss, injuries, underperforming players (duh!) and good-old fashioned luck (good last year, bad this year). I did take a look at some team offensive numbers from ESPN.com and Baseball Reference just for fun.

 Stat  2008 2009
BA w/RISP .278 .241
BA w/RISP, 2 outs .222 .230
BA w/Runners On .279 .257
SLG w/Runners On .438 .404
BABIP .321 .294
SO% 18.6% 19.2%
BB% 9.5% 10%
AB/HR% 30.4% 32%
LD% 19% 18%
SO/BB 1.86 2.03
GB/FB 0.76 0.78

That .321 BABIP the Cubs put up last year was tops in the league by the way, so some of that regression should have been expected and i do think to a degree many of us expected some drop-off to the Cubs offense this year. The 30 pt drop in BABIP has contributed to the 30 pt drop in BA and SLG with RISP and Runners On, which has coincided with the Cubs leaving runners on base. The patience that many of us wished for during all the Dusty years is still there, but they basically just can't get the big hit. And I know we don't need a lot of fancy numbers to tell us that, but I like the fancy numbers and often times our perceptions don't match up with reality. In this case, they do seem to do just that.

Tail spin

Thanks to our pal Tim at Cubby Blue for the animation...

I ask, can anything save the Cubs season at this point?

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Gordon Wittenmyer's tweets that the Cubs will go with Carlos Marmol as closer...as expected. It's like choosing your death by slowing draining the blood out of your body versus stepping on a landmine. Good luck with that Cubs...

Ryan Theriot is back tonight....and the great scrap-off of '09 can commence between him and David Eckstein, who scrapped out a the tying run with that walk in the 9th. Theriot, Bradley, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, Soriano, Baker, Soto and Dempster go for the Cubs.

Kevin Gregg has been relieved of closing duties according to Lou Piniella.

"I think we're going to make some changes as far as what we're going to
do in late innings," Piniella said. "We'll have some more tomorrow."

That "more" will either be Carlos Marmol or Angel Guzman most likely, and I'm sure Lou will go with experience and name Marmol the new closer. Instead of losing by home runs, it'll be by walking in runs. I know I feel better.

The Cardinals won last night leaving the Cubs six back in the division. You might as well kiss that train good-bye. Never say never and all, but it would take a NY Mets-like collapse at this point and I don't see it happening. Of course, I doubt the Mets did either. The Braves and Giants won and the Cubs dropped a half game to the idol Rockies leaving them four back and in 5th place in the wild card. What's the August equivelant of June Swoon? August Ambivelance?

The Cubs enter the Pacific Time Zone, which coincides perfectly with California native Ted Lilly's return to the Cubs. The Padres might as well just save their energy and give the Cubs this win. To make room on the roster, the Cubs optioned their entire pitching staff to Iowa1, because they won't be needed anymore (I'm auditioning for the TLFC). 

Sadly, not much else going on, the Cubs trail the Cardinals now by 5 games which is my personal benchmark for dismissing a team, at least this late in the season2. With only 3 games left between the two clubs, it's gonna take quite a streak by both clubs for the Cubs to make up that ground. The Wild Card is a little more attainable, trailing the Rockies by 3.5 games, but the Giants and Marlins are in the way and the Braves are tied with the Cubs.

I'll post lineups when they become available. Join the late-night fun in Parachat.

1 - Justin Berg was actually sent down.

2 -  Other worthy reasons to dismiss a team: the presence of Dusty Baker, Neifi Perez or Aaron Miles, batting Corey Patterson lead-off, having Ron Coomer as your first basemen, wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform (list subject to change)... 

Click on the image for the full-size graphic.

Tim Souers is the illustrator and author of Cubby Blue and appreciates the opportunity to guest blog here at The Cub Reporter.
http://www.cubby-blue.com

Aramis Ramirez should be able to play Friday and the Pittsburgh Pirates are coming to town...and we're on day 10,256,753(est.) of the last apocalyptic asteroid hitting the Earth.

That's all I got...hey, you get what you pay for here at TCR.

Okay fine, more ranting, raving and rumbling after the jump...

Let's never speak of last night again...

Good news is that the Cubs get a favorable pitching match-up today when Ryan Dempster faces....(shuffles papers)

(Yells at TCR Secretary)

What do you mean Cliff Lee is starting?....Who? He's just the AL Cy Young Winner....No, I don't need a sandwich Mom and don't come down here...Yes, I know it's the basement, but it's my office...and my bedroom.

alright...so bad news is that the Cubs have lost 6 of 7 and are facing last year's AL Cy Young Winner and recent Philly acquisition Cliff Lee in an attempt to avoid the sweep. Good news is that the Earth hasn't been hit by a large asteroid in a really long time.

Reader art after the jump...

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Pretty much everytime they flashed the boxscore last night after the 5th inning, I just had to cringe. Rich Harden continued his stampede to free agency with another brilliant effort. He held the arguably best offense in the league to....well nothing, for 5.1 innings and then gives up a walk to #8 hitter Carlos Ruiz before Jimmy Rollins sent one in the bleachers to tie what was looking like an easy victory. So while the Phils efficiently scored their first 2 runs on a hit, the Cubs managed 7 hits through the first six, a few double plays and line drives right at people and only 2 runs.

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So the Cubs left for this road trip on the winds of winning 7 of 8 and being a half-game up on the Cardinals. They come home losing 6 of 10 and dropping 3 back (3.5 games total). It leaves their road record a paltry eight games under .500 at 25-33. To rehash the trip in all its glory...

Was it worth all the trouble?

The Iowa Cubs had a 5:00 A.M. wakeup call after Saturday's game in Des Moines. The team's traveling party chartered to Midway and bussed to Wrigley for the ultimate matinee following a night game.

As for your intrepid correspondent, my trip began a week ago today when we piled the family into two cars instead of one so I could leave them a day early and triangulate my way home from our lake vacation in Minnesota via a stopover at yesterday's "Road to Wrigley" contest in Chicago.

I haven't heard a word tying the Cubs to either player, but it seems like the Cubs could still use some help in the bullpen. As I mentioned Friday, Carlos Marmol's walk rate north of 8 per nine innings is historic....but not in a good way. Kevin Gregg is a perfectly capable and perfectly hittable closer. He'll get the job done more times than not, but so did Ryan Dempster, and I wouldn't want either closing out the 9th inning in a playoff game. I can't think of too many World Series champs that didn't have a shut-down closer, I know there are some (2001 Diamondbacks for example), but it seems far more often than not, that a team needs a relief ace back there. Even BP put it into their "Secret Sauce" recipe for predicting playoff success. That's not to say the Cubs can't win it all with Marmol and Gregg in the 8th and 9th, but those two don't particularly make me confident.

Click on the image for the full-size cartoon and story...

As expected, Carlos Zambrano will be placed on the disabled list with recurring back spasms. It'll be back-dated to August 2nd though and he could return as soon as August 17th. If he can return by the 17th, it would mean just one start would need to be covered on Wednesday, August 12th versus the Phillies. Jeff Stevens is being recalled to take Z's roster spot, and it appears that Jeff Samardzija is the clubhouse leader to take the start on Wednesday. The Phillies of course feature lefties Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez, but their overall team OPS versus lefties and righties is about the same.

On the flip side, Ted Lilly felt good after a bullpen session and should be back sooner, rather than later. They haven't put a timetable yet on it, but it seems reasonable he could be back within a week.

The Cubs had to make a roster move today to accommodate Geovany Soto and the victim was Micah Hoffpauir. He'll surely be back up when rosters expand on September 1st and possibly sooner. After a good start to the season, he sort of crescendoed at a .920 OPS on May 20th and since then has hit 182/217/336 in 115 PA with 4 HR's, mostly in part-time duty.

That leaves the Cubs bench with Jake Fox, Koyie Hill, Aaron Miles, Sam Fuld and either Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker depending on who gets the start. 

 


LIneup for tonight: Fukudome, Bradley, Lee, Ramirez, Soto, Soriano, Fontenot, Theriot, Zambrano

If Soto comes back with a vengeance, that has to be my favorite lineup of the season...hopefully they score some runs this weekend and Lou sticks with it.

By the way, the Rockies are the best team in baseball since June with a .661 winning percentage and 39 wins (tied with the Angels) including 14 straight wins versus NL Central opponents. It's gonna be a tough series...


UPDATE: Z didn't finish his warm-ups and Sean Marshall will make a spot start.

I'll ease back into TCR with some links...

- Geovany Soto will be back in the lineup tonight just in
time for some Coors Field inflated hitting. Way to pick your spots
Geo...

- A rather crucial 7-game swing here for the Cubs...4 at Colorado and then 3 at home versus Philly. The Rockies are a game behind the Giants in the wild card and one ahead of the Cubs. Pitching matchups for this weekend are: Zambrano vs U. Jimenez (3.76 ERA), Dempster vs. Marquis (3.49), Wells vs. Hammell (4.62) and Gorzelanny vs. De La Rosa (5.00 ERA, although 5-0 with a 2.50 ERA in July, but then got crushed in his first August start against Philly).

- Here's a great Dusty-ism, except it's from Hendry.

"I can't say enough about Hill," general manager Jim Hendry said. "He really saved us."

Hoping to understand Alfonso Soriano's hot and cold streaks this year, I turned to the incomparable Fan Graphs to break down his present and historical success against different pitches.  The results suggest that Soriano is losing the skill that made him one of the more feared hitters in the game, but that he might have found a method to compensate for this loss.  Below is a chart showing the percentage of fastballs Soriano has seen each year since 2005, with 2009 broken down per month. It also shows his ranking among hitters seeing the fewest fastballs, his "runs above average"  number on fastballs, (wFastball) and how high he ranks among all hitters, and his overall OPS. (As in, not specific to fastballs)  The most important thing to notice here is his wFB rank.

 

Date  Fastball%  FB% Rank  wFastball wFB Rank  OPS
2005  47.9  147/147  27.6  15/147  .821

2006

 54.1  150/159  23.7  25/159  .911
2007  54  150/161  23.3  27/161  .897
2008  53.2  134/145  17.9  38/145  .876
April 2009  45.9  196/197  3.3  55/197  .965

May 2009

 43  185/185  3.6  60/185  .657
June 2009  49.1  180/184  2.4  72/184  .585
July 2009  44.8  190/190  .7  112/190  .992
August 2009  36.7  179/190  -.6  156/190  .220

 

You probably have noticed a couple of striking trends going on here.  First, Soriano has progressively moved from being one of the most effective hitters in baseball against the fastball to being quite pedestrian. Second, pitchers have not noticed and adapted to this change:  They contiue to avoid throwing fastballs to Soriano as if he were the same hitter he was in 2005.  He's not.

So how do we explain Soriano's April and July, when he hit like the hitter for whom the Cubs offered that premium contract?

Finding  that answer requres looking at Soriano's results swinging at sliders.

Snark is the blogging equivalent of pennies:  easy to throw around, but no matter how much is thrown, it doesn't buy much.  Using too much of it in one place is a real jerk move, but when one just don't have any currency more valuable to offer, for a short while you can make due with each.

That weak analogy aside, let's snark up the Cubs sports media.  From the headlines at the Sun-Times, I learn...

Bench player doesn't mind the opportunity to play every day

Pitcher has a tired arm, therefore he will rest it.

Player would prefer not to hold an unflattering record.

 

 

I'm off for a few days, a little family trip down to San Diego. An easy $500 (if not more) to build Legos and see some fish. Next year, we're just going to Toys 'R Us and the pet store.

Try not to ruin the place while I'm away, but if you do throw a party, ask this kid to organize it for you.

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The Cubs offense opened up another can of whoop-ass on an opposing pitcher, scoring six runs in the first two innings. Z gave two of those runs back and has been replaced in the bottom of the 4th inning by Jeff Samardzija, who promptly gave up a leadoff double(runner since erased on a sac bunt attempt).

Len mentioned something about back stiffness, I'm sure more details will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: It doesn't appear to be too concerning to Z at least and he plans to make his next start..blames it on being a big guy and possibly the hotel bed.

"As the game was going, it was feeling worse and worse, and I saw my
arm dropping," Zambrano said. "Lou told me something that was right. He
said, 'Before you get injured because of your back, let's get you out
of the game.' I knew my release point was low. It was the best choice
to take me out of the game." 

Aramis Ramirez also left the game in the top of the 10th inning. He was hit in the left elbow by a pitch, stayed in and made it to second base and then signaled to the trainers and had to be helped off the field after complaining of dizziness. Lou seemed to indicate he was okay though

I saw the hit by pitch, but walked away and didn't see Ramirez get removed from the game. I did catch the bottom of the 10th and if you missed it, Lou was forced to put Alfonso Soriano at second base, Jeff Baker at third base and Sam Fuld in left field. Even better, he switched Baker and Soriano when the lefty Jeremy Hermida came up to bat, rightfully figuring that the odds were higher that Hermida would pull the ball to second (Hermida K'd eventually). Either way, some fun water cooler talk as the Cubs nearly blew what should have been a laugher.

I had been kind of curious when the Cubs would ever make up those 5 games on the Cardinals, considering the Cubs are still up in the loss column, yet a half game behind. And I figured if I'm curious, someone else out there is as well. So mark the dates on your calendar, if the Cubs can win all 5, they'll pick up 2.5 games on the Cardinals.

August 3rd - Cubs @ Cincinnati

August 13th - Cubs vs. Philadelphia

August 31st - Cubs vs. Houston

September 17th - Cubs vs. Milwaukee

September 24th - Cubs @ San Francisco

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