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Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams to open 2022 season; Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football

The NFL will open its new season where the last one kicked off — in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, as the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, Sept. 8, the teams revealed.

The Bills-Rams matchup features elite quarterback play between Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen, who has guided the Bills to back-to-back playoff appearances. This game highlights a challenging calendar for the Rams, whose opponents have the league’s highest winning percentage from last year (56.7%). NBC will broadcast the game.

The Monday Night Football opener offers a spicy storyline

Russell Wilson making his Denver Broncos debut against his old team, the Seattle Seahawks, in Lumen Field.

Wilson guided the Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances and nine winning seasons over 10 years. Seattle traded Wilson to Denver in March for multiple draft picks and veteran players.

Other key Week 1 matchups include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, a rematch of last season’s Thursday night opener; the Los Angeles Chargers hosting the Las Vegas Raiders, reigniting a dramatic 2021 regular season finale with playoff implications; the Cincinnati Bengals at the Pittsburgh Steelers, a clash of fierce AFC North rivals; and the Kansas City Chiefs making the trip west to play the Arizona Cardinals, two high-powered offenses in the desert.

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The Buccaneers will face serious firepower in the first month of the campaign, with a Sept. 25 home opener versus the Green Bay Packers and a clash with the Chiefs the following week.

Other Week 1 matchups include the Jacksonville Jaguars, with new coach Doug Pederson, at the Washington Commanders, with new quarterback Carson Wentz. Pederson coached Wentz in Philadelphia and won a Super Bowl with the Eagles, although Nick Foles was behind center with Wentz injured.

Several key division matchups, meanwhile, are also on tap for Sept. 11: the New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins, and the Packers at Minnesota Vikings.

Also, it will be the Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears, Eagles at Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets, and New York Giants at Tennessee Titans.

NFL teams started releasing information on their home openers a few hours before the 8 p.m. league-wide schedule reveal.

Teams have known their opponents since the end of last season, but the NFL builds drama around the schedule release, announcing the order, kickoff times and broadcast networks for all 272 games on one night each May.

This will be the second NFL season that follows a 17-game schedule, as agreed upon by the NFL and players union during recent labor negotiations.

The regular season runs through Jan. 8, with the Super Bowl set for kickoff Feb. 12.

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Russell Wilson ‘feels great’ after first minicamp with Denver Broncos

Year 1 of the Russell Wilson experience for the Denver Broncos officially got underway Monday as the team went through the first day of a three-day voluntary veteran minicamp.

The Broncos completed the blockbuster trade to obtain Wilson in March, and he has since quickly found his way around the city at sporting events and the Children’s Hospital. His purchase of a suburban Denver mansion became a viral sensation.

But Monday was the first time Wilson and the rest of his teammates were on the field with Broncos first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett and the team’s staff.

It was a heavyweight battle of enthusiasm and energy with Hackett filling in at running back to work through some play-action scenarios when many of the team’s players were in special-teams drills.

“I told him at the end, congratulations on our first practice together,” Wilson said. “… To give him little handoffs here and there, somebody called him ‘White Lightning,’ I don’t know, but he looked good over there.”

“I always wanted to play running back,” Hackett said. “… There was some special teams going on … we’ve got to get out there and give them a look, I feel like I have it a realistic look.”

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Asked about his 40 time, Hackett added “let’s not talk about that.”

Wilson has spent time with the team’s pass-catchers and running backs in recent weeks, first at throwing sessions in San Diego shortly after the trade to go with some workouts locally as the Broncos opened their offseason program April 16.

But the existing minicamp, though still limited by the league’s offseason practice rules, was the first practice with all of the coaches mingling with all of the players. And it was clear Wilson’s presence has changed the dynamic of things.

“This guy loves practice, out there at there at the end, he’s like ‘We’re done, can’t we do more?’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’d love to, but baby steps,'” Hackett said of Wilson.

“To be here, standing right here, now that I’m here, it feels right,” Wilson said. “It feels great, I’m excited about it, and also too, at the same time, there’s a lot more to do.”

Hackett stated the Broncos are in the beginning of the installation of the playbook on offense.

“[Monday] was just kind of the very basics of what we do,” he said. “Then we’ll slowly start expanding that with the guys through Phase 2 and the OTAs.”

The Broncos have missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, and Wilson, when he starts Week 1, will be the 11th different quarterback and 12th different player to start a game behind center for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired after the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win.

Running back Phillip Lindsay started behind center versus the New Orleans Saints during the 2020 season. “Been an amazing experience so far,” Wilson said. “… If I was going to go somewhere, I had to go somewhere that wanted to win. And this is one of those places that definitely wants to do that.”

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Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores joins Pittsburgh Steelers as defensive assistant/LB coach

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has a new family.

The Pittsburgh Steelers revealed the hire of Flores, who is suing the NFL and three teams, as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach Saturday.

“I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a news release. “Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.”

Flores’ hire significantly boosts a defensive unit that recently saw the promotion of Teryl Austin to defensive coordinator following the retirement of Keith Butler, who also coached the team’s outside linebackers.

Flores spent the past three campaigns as Miami’s head coach, compiling a 24-25 record before he was fired last month.

Prior to that, he was the defensive playcaller for the New England Patriots, including in Super Bowl LIII.

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Flores, 40, filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the Giants, Dolphins and Broncos this month, alleging discrimination in the interview process with New York and Denver and in his firing by Miami.

In the lawsuit, Flores alleged, among other things, that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for every loss in 2019 in an effort to tank for a top draft pick.

Flores also claimed the Giants only interviewed him for their head-coaching vacancy in January to comply with the Rooney Rule, and he stated a similar scenario played out in 2019 during an interview process with the Broncos.

The NFL has hired a law firm that includes former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to defend against Flores’ claims.

Despite the Steelers’ hiring of Flores, his lawyer, Douglas H. Wigdor, issued a statement Saturday indicating the lawsuit against the league would proceed. “While Coach Flores is now focused on his new position, he will continue with his race discrimination class action so that real change can be made in the NFL,” said Wigdor.

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Denver Broncos hire Justin Outten as OC, Klint Kubiak as QBs coach

Newly hired Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett continued to fill out his staff on Wednesday, as Green Bay Packers tight ends coach Justin Outten was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator and former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak was hired as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator.

The Broncos also hired Butch Barry as offensive line coach. Barry was the assistant offensive line coach with the San Francisco 49ers this season.

Since being formally introduced on Friday as the team’s head coach, Hackett has spent much of his time interviewing candidates for all his staff positions.

Hackett has said he will call plays, but he, Outten and Kubiak will all do the heavy lifting to try to repair one of the league’s most sluggish offenses. The Broncos have not averaged more than 23 points per match since 2014 and haven’t averaged more than 21 points per game since 2015.

And over the past six seasons, the Broncos have averaged fewer than 20 points per game three times, including this past season, when they finished 7-10.

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“First and foremost, any offense that you have has to be maneuverable and adjustable for whoever you have on your team,” Hackett said last week.

“It’s about finding out what your guys do the best and being able to do that over and over again and taking advantage of their skill sets. … I think the starting point is outside zone. Outside zone on offense is what you want to do, and you want to base that off of play-pass. You want to make the defense cover the entire field. You want to take shots down the field. Let’s all face it: That’s what the people in the stands love — they love those bombs down the field.”

The Broncos still have a major question to answer at quarterback in the coming months as well. 

Drew Lock is set to enter the last year of his rookie deal, and Teddy Bridgewater is planned to be an unrestricted free agent.

The Broncos have started 10 different quarterbacks — running back Phillip Lindsay also started behind center in the no-quarterback game in 2020 because of COVID-19 issues — since the midpoint of the 2016 season.

Outten was the Packers’ tight ends coach during Hackett’s three seasons with the team and was with the Atlanta Falcons during Kyle Shanahan’s time as offensive coordinator, so he is well versed in the version of the West Coast offense that Hackett wants to run, which has roots back to former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

Kubiak is also seasoned with the scheme, as he previously spent three seasons as a Broncos assistant for his father, Gary, and later Vance Joseph.

Kubiak was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator last season after two years as the team’s quarterbacks coach. “I remember watching [former Broncos quarterback] John Elway throw the ball down the field to [former Broncos wide receiver Ed] McCaffrey on all of those boot fakes. That was unbelievable,” Hackett stated.

“This is really where this system evolved from and was created. You’re always looking for that, and mixing in that West Coast principle of the dropback game.”

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LaVine nets 32, Bulls overcome DeRozan’s absence, top Denver

The Chicago Bulls found out they had to get by without DeMar DeRozan, then showed they have enough to keep winning, even when they’re missing one of their best players.

It sure is a welcomed change for Zach LaVine after years of losing.

“No idea, brother,” he said, laughing.

LaVine scored 32 points and the Bulls overcame DeRozan’s absence to beat the Denver Nuggets 109-97 on Monday night.

The Bulls took a big hit a few hours before tipoff when DeRozan, their leading scorer, entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Even without the four-time All-Star, they dominated down the stretch and tied Brooklyn for the Eastern Conference lead.

It’s just another sign of how far the Bulls have come. After four consecutive losing seasons, they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

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The Chicago Bulls found out they had to get by without DeMar DeRozan, then showed they have enough to keep winning, even when they’re missing one of their best players.

It sure is a welcomed change for Zach LaVine after years of losing.

“No idea, brother,” he said, laughing.

LaVine scored 32 points and the Bulls overcame DeRozan’s absence to beat the Denver Nuggets 109-97 on Monday night.

The Bulls took a big hit a few hours before tipoff when DeRozan, their leading scorer, entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Even without the four-time All-Star, they dominated down the stretch and tied Brooklyn for the Eastern Conference lead.

It’s just another sign of how far the Bulls have come. After four consecutive losing seasons, they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

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Washington DE Montez Sweat has broken jaw, could miss a month

Washington defensive end Montez Sweat suffered a broken jaw in Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos and will miss perhaps a month – or more.

The loss deals a serious blow to Washington, which has lost four consecutive matches and entered its bye week with a 2-6 record. It’s the same record it had a year ago after eight games en route to a 5-3 finish and NFC East title.

Repeating that won-loss success will be difficult minus Sweat, whose injury was first reported by Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan. He hurt his jaw late in Sunday’s 17-10 beating, with his final snap of the game occurring at the 6:54 mark of the fourth quarter.

Sweat could be seen grabbing the side of his face after the play had concluded. It wasn’t until he got an X-Ray that the fracture was discovered. He can’t have any physical contact for a month. That means he’ll miss upcoming games vs. Tampa Bay, Carolina and Seattle.

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Washington had high hopes for Sweat and fellow end Chase Young this season.

But, so far, the two have combined for 5.5 sacks, with four by Sweat. Both have forced two fumbles this season. They had a combined 16.5 sacks a year ago in Young’s rookie season and stated they had discussed trying to break sack records by a tandem pass rush. The record is 39 by Minnesota’s Chris Doleman and Keith Millard in 1989.

Sweat had started 40 consecutive matches since entering the NFL in 2019. His size, length and athleticism made him difficult for offenses to always handle one-on-one in the run or pass game.

Washington also was thin at backup defensive end, having allowed veteran Ryan Kerrigan to leave via free agency in the offseason. Their backups are Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams, who has played nearly three times as many snaps as Toohill. Rookie Shaka Toney also can help as a situational pass rusher.

Washington’s offense has been hit hard by injuries this season; at the end of Sunday’s game of the original 11 expected starters only three were on the field. But, defensively, they’ve been healthier with only linebacker Jon Bostic lost for the season after four games. Corner William Jackson III has missed two games.

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Broncos are expecting same old Raiders even without Gruden

Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller still sees the Las Vegas Raiders as Jon Gruden’s team even after their rival’s iconic coach resigned in disgrace.

While acknowledging “how they call the game will definitely change because they have a new play caller,” Miller insisted, “what they do is what they do.”

“They’re not going to come out here and be an option team. They’re not just going to come out here and change their whole identity because Gruden’s gone,” Miller argued. “They’re still going to do some of the things that they do well. We just don’t know when they will do it.

“To be honest, that’s really every week that we go out there,” Miller added. “We really don’t know what the other team is going to present.”

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Longtime special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia makes his debut as the Raiders’ interim head coach Sunday, with offensive coordinator Greg Olson taking over play-calling duties in a matchup pitting 3-2 teams who are seeking their first victory in October.

“No one wants to be a head coach in this particular situation, no one wants to be put in front of this under these particular circumstances,” said Bisaccia, whose first NFL job was under Gruden in 2002, when he was hired as special teams coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“But it’s an incredible opportunity, not only for me but for all the other coaches to see what we can do with this adversity, see what we can do with this challenge.”

Olson’s voice isn’t an unfamiliar one to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“My rookie year he called plays,” Carr said. “I’ve heard his voice through the headset. I know how he calls the game and I know how he thinks. We’re in the same room. Every conversation I had with coach Gruden, I had with Oly this whole time.

“It’s not going to be anything crazy new but there are philosophies that some people have. So, I don’t want to give Oly’s secrets away, but could things be different? Yes. Could things be similar? Yes, absolutely.”

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Roethlisberger throws 2 TDs, Steelers top Broncos 27-19

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers silenced the noise. At least for a week.

Funny how having something resembling a running game for the first time in a long time will do that.

Riding an offensive balance nonexistent for most of the last two years, the Steelers held off Denver 27-19 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Rookie Najee Harris ran for a career-best 122 yards and a touchdown for Pittsburgh (2-3) before a cramping issue in his calves forced him to stand on the sideline while a late rally by Denver fell short.

The Broncos (3-2) trailed by 18 in the fourth quarter before a pair of Teddy Bridgewater touchdown passes brought them within striking distance.

Bridgewater’s fourth-down heave to the end zone with 11 seconds left was intercepted by James Pierre, permitting the Steelers to exhale. For a minute anyway.

Asked if the triumph will quiet withering criticism he’s endured over the last month, Roethlisberger just smiled.

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“Probably not,” he said. “But we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”

And won in a way they’re probably going to need to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North. With Harris churning through holes that didn’t exist over the first four games, the Steelers didn’t have to rely exclusively on their 39-year-old quarterback to make something happen.

That was kind of the plan all along and got lost amid a difficult first month. The Steelers dropped three of four behind a retooled offensive line that at times looked overmatched.

Not so much versus the Broncos.

The Steelers gave up one sack and kept Denver outside linebacker Von Miller in check while running the ball 35 times and passing just 25, the kind of ratio Roethlisberger is more than happy to live with.

Several times Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun with the option to run or pass, saw coverage that indicated he should probably throw it and opted to hand it off to Harris anyway because the 22-year-old runner and the five linemen in front of him had it going.

“Why take it out of his hand when you’re grinding it, you’re getting it?” Roethlisberger stated. “It was kind of fun to watch him excel and take over.”

Yet cramps forced out Harris in the middle of the fourth quarter. Bridgewater, who spent the bulk of the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol before returning to practice Friday, nearly drew the Broncos even.

Bridgewater completed 24 of 38 passes for 288 yards with a pair of scores: a 2-yard dart to Kendall Hinton and a 39-yard rainbow to Courtland Sutton with 5:46 to go that drew Denver within 24-19.

Bridgwater then drove Denver to the Pittsburgh 3 in the final seconds before Pierre’s first career interception ended the threat.

“We can’t wait until the game is out of hand to have a sense of urgency,” Bridgewater said.

The loss made Denver’s perfect September look more like a mirage. The Broncos piled up wins against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets last month. Tested by Baltimore and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks, the Broncos came up short.

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Denver Broncos LB Von Miller ‘at peace’ if this is final year with team

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller reported for his 11th campaign Tuesday, and while he has always hoped to be a “Bronco for life,” he says as he enters the last year of his contract that he wants to play several more years and is “at peace” if that is eventually somewhere else.

“I would like to keep playing. Whether that’s here with the Denver Broncos or somewhere else, I’m totally at peace with that,” Miller stated as the Broncos’ veteran players reported Tuesday for training camp. “I want to play five to seven more years, I think I said that a couple weeks ago.”

Miller, who was the Broncos’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft, is the team’s longest-tenured player. The Broncos engaged his contract option for the 2021 season in March, the last year of the six-year, $114.5 million deal he signed in 2016 several months after he had been named MVP of Super Bowl 50.

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He turned 32 in March, is about to be a father and said he wants to keep playing so his future son will be able to see him play.

But after worrying about his future for most of the summer of 2020, Miller said he’s taking a calmer approach this time around, even as he hopes to finish his career with the Broncos.

“I’m not really thinking about this is the last year of my contract, [or] will I be with the Broncos,” Miller said. “Last year, to be honest, that was really on my soul. I really wanted, I really wanted — of course I want to be here. I want to stay here for the rest of my career, but getting past that is kind of a release for me.”

Miller had powered through a bevy of offseason workouts in 2020 in hopes of leaving his eight-sack season in 2019 behind and helping end the current Broncos playoff drought, but he suffered a season-ending ankle injury days before the season opener and did not play in a game. His eight-sack total in ’19 was the lowest since 2013, when he had five.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio has already predicted Miller is again poised to have a big year in 2021, and general manager George Paton said picking up Miller’s option was an easy decision. “We wanted Von to be a Bronco … he’s going to have a Pro Bowl-type season,” Paton said earlier this year.

“Sitting out last year, it really helped me be at peace,” Miller said Tuesday. “Being at peace and being content, they are two totally different things. I feel like you can be at peace with whatever happens, but you still want to go out there and lead the league in sacks, you still want to get Defensive Player of the Year, still want to get all this crazy stuff, but I’m at peace with whatever happens.”

With 106 sacks in 135 career matches, Miller is the Broncos’ all-time sack leader, and he enters the 2021 season as the league’s active sack leader, five ahead of J.J. Watt.

Since Miller missed the 2020 season and Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb missed most of the 2019 season with a knee injury, Miller has plenty of optimism for what the two may be able to do together in the defense this year. Chubb was named to his first Pro Bowl last season.

And in the 20 games Miller and Chubb have played together, they have combined for 29.5 sacks.

“He looks ready to go, I’m ready to go, this might be the one … I’m excited to see the things me and Bradley can do,” Miller said. “I feel great … I’m still running the same, still lifting the same as those guys. …” Miller added later.

“I’m hoping to play another five to seven years, maybe even more. I don’t want to put a number on it — if it’s less, it’s less. I’m at peace I’ve played in the league long enough. I’ve been in the league 11 years, so every single year after this is just a true blessing. I want to play a long time.”

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Shohei Ohtani lead way for All-Star Game starters

Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. are heading to their first All-Star Game — as starters.

The three headline stars of 2021 dominated the second phase of fan voting at their respective positions to earn starting spots for the 91st All-Star Game programmed for July 13 at Coors Field in Denver.

Guerrero and Tatis were the leading vote-getters in each league, while Ohtani finished with the second-highest percentage in the American League.

Ohtani, voted in as the AL’s designated hitter, has thrilled fans all season with his two-way performance, long home runs and electrifying speed on the bases. He leads the majors with 28 home runs, including an MLB-leading 12 of 425 feet or longer.

He’s hitting .277, leads the majors with 49 extra-base hits and ranks third in the majors with 63 RBIs. Ohtani is also tied for the AL lead with four triples and has stolen 11 bases.

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While Ohtani had a disastrous start pitching Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium when he failed to finish the first inning, he is still 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 83 strikeouts and a .194 batting average allowed over 60 innings. Not since Babe Ruth in 1919, and briefly with Ohtani in 2018 before he underwent Tommy John surgery, has the sport seen such a dominant two-way player.

“He’s a joy for this,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after Ohtani hit two home runs on Tuesday. “He’s what baseball needs as both a player and as an example.”

Ohtani was on fire at the plate in June, hitting .309 with 13 home runs, including 11 homers in 13 games from June 15 to June 29.

“He’s a generational talent, that’s for sure,” said fellow All-Star starter Aaron Judge of the Yankees.

Ohtani has also committed to participate in the Home Run Derby on July 12, with Pete Alonso of the Mets defending his title.

The runner-up in the Home Run Derby as a rookie in 2019, Guerrero makes his first All-Star team after securing 75% of the vote among the three AL finalists at first base. The 22-year-old is in pursuit of a Triple Crown, leading the AL with 66 RBIs, ranking second to Ohtani with 26 home runs and trailing Michael Brantley in batting average, .340 to .336.

He gets to his first All-Star Game two years earlier than his Hall of Fame father did, as Vladimir Guerrero Sr. made the first of his nine All-Star appearances at age 24.

Tatis has had a roller coaster of a campaign, missing nine matches early on after partially dislocating a shoulder on a swing on April 5, hitting .163 through his first 12 games and then later missing another 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. When he has played, however, he has crushed the ball, leading the National League with 26 home runs in just 63 games while hitting .300/.387/.705 for an MLB-leading 1.092 OPS.

Tatis beat out Javier Baez of the Cubs and Brandon Crawford of the Giants at shortstop with 64% of the vote, matching Guerrero as a first-time All-Star at 22. After an initial round of fan voting, the top three at each position entered the second phase.

Ohtani beat out J.D. Martinez and Yordan Alvarez at designated hitter with 64% of the vote, while Guerrero outdistanced Yuli Gurriel and Jose Abreu with 75%.

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