Nationals

Griffen giving Vikings another solid pass rusher

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Griffen giving Vikings another solid pass rusher

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings weren't sure if they could count on Everson Griffen after two spotty seasons, despite the potential he flashed as a pass rusher.

After two games as a nearly-every-down defensive end, Griffen's progress has been clarified. With personal growth through a tragic experience, some technique improvement and a recent chance for more playing time, Griffen has proven his worth and helped strengthen the Minnesota defense at a critical time.

``You've got to take full advantage of the opportunity, and that's all I did,'' Griffen said after practice Friday. ``Just showing them that they can trust in me and that I'm accountable. When your number is called, you have to be ready to play and go in there and perform.''

Brian Robison sprained his right shoulder early in the Dec. 16 victory at St. Louis, so Griffen was promoted from his nickel-package role to the base defense. He returned an interception for a touchdown, showing remarkable athleticism to catch the ball cleanly and maneuver toward the end zone, and had three quarterback hurries. In the win on Sunday at Houston, Griffen had a fumble recovery and a tackle for loss.

``One day I will be a starter in the NFL and once that happens I will take full advantage. I'm happy for my progress and just to help this team,'' Griffen said. ``Whatever I can do - inside, outside, whatever - I'm here for the cause and I'm down with the Minnesota Vikings.''

Griffen fell to the fourth round in the 2010 draft, coming out of USC after his junior year. He was hampered by a turf-toe injury and inconsistent performance, but Vikings director of college scouting Scott Studwell also described Griffen at the time as a guy who ``enjoyed the college life a little bit.'' With Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and Brian Robison ahead of him, Griffen played sparingly on defense and mostly on special teams coverage as a rookie.

That winter, he was arrested for an alleged assault on a police officer in Los Angeles during a scuffle that ensued from a traffic stop, though a felony charge was not pursued by authorities.

In 2011, Griffen's playing time increased. He had four sacks, four tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries, becoming the primary backup to Allen and Robison after the departure of Edwards. But he was still prone to untimely penalties, and his main value remained on special teams.

With Allen and Robison entrenched in their starting spots, the Vikings experimented in training camp with Griffen at linebacker, but that ended quickly when both parties determined there wasn't a fit. With assistance from new defensive line coach Brendan Daly, Griffen adjusted his hand placement to improve his pass-rush moves. He devoted himself to more film study. And, after the sudden death of his mother in October, Griffen took another step forward in his maturation.

``He's come so far,'' coach Leslie Frazier said. ``Being able to manage his free time, understanding what it means to be a pro and act like a pro, both at practice and in games as well, and off the field. He's one of those guys, as we speak, that has really bought in to the right way of doing things.''

Griffen has the quickness to excel at his position. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams, looking at video of the players he inherited soon after he was hired before this season, recalled watching Griffen in action for the first time.

``There was a blur going across the screen and I was thinking, `Is that a linebacker? Is that a safety running across the field?''' Williams said. ``And I went back and forth a couple of times and I got my program out and looked at it, and it was Everson Griffen. I looked at his height and weight and I was thinking, `Wow, we have something here.'''

Griffen has moved to defensive tackle in the nickel scheme when opponents are likely to pass, with Letroy Guion coming out. He also gives Allen and Robison breaks from time to time at end. With Robison questionable to play this Sunday against Green Bay, Griffen is certain to see significant time on the field again. His greatest value is being able to drop back in coverage on zone-blitz calls or get to the quarterback on a rush just as quickly.

``I knew they could count on me from the very beginning, but I proved to them that they really can now,'' Griffen said. ``It's a good feeling. I just want to go out there and keep on improving and helping this team win. That's all I want to do.''

NOTES: CB Antoine Winfield was listed as questionable with knee and hand soreness. RB Adrian Peterson, who has been bothered by an abdominal injury, was listed as probable. ... Frazier said Robison has improved but wants to gauge Robison's assessment of his condition before clearing him to play. ... Winfield will wear a wrap with protective padding on his hand. He didn't practice all week, but part of that is his veteran privilege. ``Just being cautious today, but I think he'll be ready,'' Frazier said.

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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 Washingotn 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 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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