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Saints LB Vilma wants to play more against Denver

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Saints LB Vilma wants to play more against Denver

METAIRIE, La. (AP) New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma hopes to play a bigger role on the Saints' defense in his second game of the season.

Playing for the first time while appealing his season-long suspension for his role in the New Orleans' bounty program, Vilma played 18 snaps last Sunday against Tampa Bay.

``I felt a little rusty, especially with the new defense, getting used to some of the new guys on the team and not being around them,'' he said. ``I didn't get a chance to practice in OTAs or training camp or preseason, so for me this is a crash course in everything - the new defense, the new guys, playing, getting into shape.''

The fact that he is playing at all is somewhat surprising.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the season in May. Even after he got a reprieve two days before the season opener against Washington when a three-man appeals panel vacated that suspension and asked Goodell to clarify the rationale, the Saints placed Vilma on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a lingering left knee problem.

Goodell suspended him again on Oct. 9. Vilma declined Friday to talk about any bounty-related topics leading into his appeals hearing Tuesday with former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who will decide whether to uphold Goodell's ruling.

Vilma readily talked about his health and playing against the Broncos.

He said his knee, and his entire body, held up very well after the Tampa Bay game. He did not make a tackle but had one deflection and forced a near interception by pressuring Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman as New Orleans won its second in row, 35-28, after losing its first four.

``It's a great feeling,'' Vilma said. ``Aside from all the other stuff going on outside of football, it was just really good to get our second victory. We're starting to play a little bit better. We're definitely playing a lot harder with a lot more conviction, and it shows on the field.''

Vilma played almost exclusively in the nickel package and never at his accustomed middle linebacker spot. Curtis Lofton, the Saints' leading tackler, took over that role soon after he signed in March.

But just having Vilma on the field can help the Saints' struggling defense, which ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed.

``Leadership is something that you really can't coach and really can't fake,'' safety Malcolm Jenkins said. ``He's a great, natural-born leader, so whenever he steps out there his presence does bring a sense of leadership that you really can't get out of other people.''

For the first time since 2008, when the NFL allowed a defensive player on each team to wear a headset connected to a coach on the sideline, Vilma went without the earpiece against Tampa Bay. That did not stop him from dictating formations while he played.

``I don't have the headset, so that's different,'' Vilma said. ``But lining up the guys, making checks and all that, that never changes.''

The headset was the only part he did not enjoy about playing middle linebacker for former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

``I'm actually kind of relieved,'' Vilma said. ``Gregg used to tell me like a million things and wouldn't tell me the play, and then finally he'd tell me the play with like five seconds left. I'm in my own world now. I'm not in Gregg's world. I'm in my head.''

He will face one of the headiest NFL quarterbacks in Denver's Peyton Manning on Sunday. Because he is playing in the nickel, and because teams usually defend the Broncos' no-huddle offense in nickel formations, Vilma's play count should rise significantly.

The last time the Saints played Manning, they beat him and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Saints interim coach Joe Vitt estimated this week Vilma called defensive audibles in that game about 45 percent of the time, matching wits with Manning.

Despite his rustiness, Vilma can't wait for another opportunity.

``I'm dead serious - unless they take me out, I'm staying in,'' he said. ``I'll find a way to make some plays.''

Notes: Vitt said tight end Jimmy Graham, who has a sprained right ankle, would be a game-time decision. Graham was limited in practice all week after missing the Tampa Bay game. Said Graham: ``I think I'm ready now, and hopefully they'll allow me to play.'' . Vitt labeled linebacker David Hawthorne a game-time decision, too. Hawthorne has missed three straight games after hurting his right hamstring against Kansas City.

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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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