Nationals

Chicago defense showing some wear, tear

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Chicago defense showing some wear, tear

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears' defense is finding it difficult to close out games and showing signs of some real wear and tear.

Playing without injured linebacker Brian Urlacher and with several other lineup changes, the Bears will have to find a way to turn it around Sunday against a Minnesota Vikings offense that can run opponents into the ground behind Adrian Peterson. A win would also help erase the sting of the 23-17 overtime loss to Seattle at Soldier Field last weekend.

``That locker room, I know a lot of guys left that field pretty (ticked) off and you want another opportunity like that because games like that you shouldn't allow to slip away,'' linebacker Lance Briggs said. ``And we've done that more than once this year. We need to show up in the critical situations.''

The Bears defense has failed on three of the last four attempts when handed an opportunity to close out a game. Tim Tebow also beat them last year in overtime after rallying the Broncos on their final drive of regulation.

With five 30-something players, the conditioning and stamina of the defense has been closely watched. They allowed Seattle to convert eight of 15 third downs, a season's worst 53 percent.

``Third downs are critical in this league, critical,'' Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ``You've got to get off the field, because our offense does a nice job of controlling the clock. That's something we've been pretty good at through most of the year but that's something we have got to be on top of.''

The Bears have also allowed seven scores in the closing 3 1/2 minutes of the first half.

Staying fresh against Peterson, the NFL's rushing leader, and a Vikings offense that is likely to stress ball control with top wide receiver Percy Harvin now on injured reserve (ankle), isn't likely to be easy. Doing it without Urlacher, and with different players manning four positions on defense will be even more difficult.

Without Urlacher for at least three weeks due to a pulled hamstring, the Bears are moving Nick Roach to the middle linebacker and replacing him on the strongside with free agent acquisition Geno Hayes.

The Bears did not consider moving Briggs from his weakside linebacker spot to the middle because they didn't want to weaken his position while also playing with an inexperienced middle linebacker.

``This is my 10th year and I've never played Mike (middle backer) in my 10 years,'' Briggs said. ``It would be easier for me to play Sam (strong), it would be easier for me to play nickel (back) than it would for me to play Mike. I could play it. All of us could play it because the positions are interchangeable. But I don't want to play it.''

Coach Lovie Smith supports Briggs' stance.

``Will we ever do that? No,'' he said. ``Lance won't be playing `Mike' linebacker unless we have everyone else go down and then we would maybe call on him then, but that's not a part of what we're looking at.''

Hayes was a weakside linebacker in Tampa who has been playing strongside in Chicago. The other changes will likely be Kelvin Hayden moving from nickel back to starting left cornerback for injured NFL interception leader Tim Jennings, who missed a second straight practice with a shoulder injury, and D.J. Moore replacing Hayden at nickel back.

The changes could make it tough for a defense that has been struggling against the run. No one rushed for more than 106 yards against the Bears in the first six games. No one has rushed for less than 114 against them in the last six and Peterson is coming off a 210-yard performance against Green Bay, his sixth straight 100-yard game.

``I'm pretty sure that the main thing that makes their offense tick is Adrian Peterson, so our main goal is to stop him and to force them to try to go to their second option,'' Hayden said.

NOTES: Wide receiver Earl Bennett has been ruled out for Sunday's game due to a concussion. ... Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) and wide receiver Devin Hester (concussion) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. ... Running back Michael Bush missed a second straight practice due to a rib injury, but Smith said he expects Bush will be ready to play Sunday.

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

The countdown to the MLB All-Star game in Washington ticks on, but the stars of its host city struggled this week in the voting.

Last week, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Matt Adams dropped one position from the first week's ballot. This week, the downward trend continues, perhaps a sign of the ambivalence among Nationals fans following a mixed record since week two's update.

The Nats won three of their seven games last week with a blowout 2-12 loss to the Phillies on Friday. Maybe they're feeling bogged down by the incessant rain delays in the DC-Maryland area

Regardless, Bryce Harper dropped another spot on the fan voting ballot this week to settle in the No. 3 spot among outfielders with 1,403,335 votes. Leading him are No. 1 Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis with 1,829,276 votes and No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Matt Kemp with 1,498,827 votes. It's worth noting that Harper trails Kemp by less than 100,000 votes, a very reasonable gap to recover from, and leads No. 4 Colorado Rockies centerfielder Matt Blackmon by over 400,000 votes, a somewhat safe separation. 

Matt Adams, however, was not so lucky. After dropping from No. 14 to No. 15 last week, he fell out of the top 15 in this week's voting. In this week's results, only 8,000 votes separate Nos. 14 and 15, so it's okay to be hopeful that your vote will make a difference. 

Trea Turner is still holding onto the No. 5 spot in the shortstop category, with an over 100,000 vote increase from last week's voting update pushing him up to 380,331 votes. The shortstops' rankings haven't changed since last week, so the San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, Braves' Dansby Swanson, Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell and Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story remain in the top four spots.

Nats fans, now's the time to keep casting those votes to keep your favorites on this year's National League roster. You can keep voting until July 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET, up to five times every 24 hours. Read more about how to vote for your favorite players in the MLB All-Star Game HERE

The 2018 National League - American League matchup is in Washington, D.C. on July 17.

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