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MVP watch: Tatis, Ohtani square off in Anaheim

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SAN DIEGO — This weekend’s showdown between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Angels will include the two clear-cut favorites in baseball’s MVP race: Shohei Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr.

Two-way superstar Ohtani continues to put up a historical campaign, leading the majors with 41 home runs while sporting a 3.00 ERA with 127 strikeouts over 105 innings on the mound. Tatis tops the National League with 35 homers, despite missing close to a month with a separated left shoulder and a stint on the COVID list.

In his bid for NL MVP, Tatis leads the major leagues with a 1.003 OPS and a .640 slugging percentage. Second? Ohtani, who is slugging .634 with a 1.002 OPS.

Tatis is likely to see Ohtani only from a distance on the field in this weekend’s two-game set in Anaheim. Ohtani isn’t scheduled to pitch and will be the Angels’ designated hitter. Tatis has been playing right field since returning from injury, trying to keep his shoulder healthy. The teams play next week in San Diego, and Ohtani will probably only pinch hit. During the Halos’ interleague series against the Dodgers in early August, Ohtani did not pitch or play in any of the three games.

Nonetheless, Tatis is impressed by what Ohtani is accomplishing in a game so deeply steeped in routine throughout a 162-game season. And while Ohtani batted leadoff as a starting pitcher in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Tatis knows that what he’s achieving this year is virtually unheard of in the majors.

“His dedication, seeing him trying to make a difference in this game, he’s showing that you can really hit and really pitch in this era,” Tatis said. “I really admire his work and what he’s trying to do.”

Tatis won’t dive too far into the MVP debate, but he does think Ohtani’s versatility sets him apart.

“An MVP-type caliber player helps his team in every single area, on and off the field. You show what you’re capable of when you come out for your team every single day,” Tatis said in a one-on-one interview with ESPN. “Guys like my boy Vladdy [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.], who is having an amazing season, and Ohtani, what he’s doing this year for the game, is just impressive.”

Tatis has faced Ohtani twice, the first time going 0-for-2 in a spring training game in which he saw the phenom from Japan whiz a fastball by him at 101 mph. Tatis also batted against Ohtani during their much-anticipated Midsummer Classic matchup. Ohtani, the starting and winning pitcher for the AL in the All-Star Game, retired the three batters, including winning a five-pitch battle with Tatis that ended with a fly ball to left field.

“It’s really hard coming in one day trying to do one thing and coming in another day and trying to do another thing, especially for 162,” Tatis said. “That’s really, really special.”

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