It may be hard to believe (or maybe not, given the way things have gone recently), but the second-place St. Louis Cardinals have just one fewer win than the first place Chicago Cubs.
Thankfully, they also have four more loses, which provides a bit of breathing room in the standings (2.5 games), but they’ve already boxed out the Brewers for second place (0.5 game) and have affirmatively turned the NL Central into a three-team divisional race here at the end of August. Neat.
So it against that backdrop that I inform you: the Cardinals’ starting left fielder, Marcell Ozuna, is heading to the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
I’ll get into the specifics of what that means in a second, but I wanted to first point out that between the trade of Tommy Pham, the move to place Dexter Fowler on the 60-day DL (effectively ending his season), and this move today, the entire Cardinals’ Opening Day outfield is out. That’s pretty nuts. The Cubs have had more than their fair share of injuries to key players this year too, no doubt, but “losing” your entire starting outfield – three of the top four batters in the opening day lineup – is about as tough as it gets (query whether they “lost” Pham, but you get the idea). [Brett: The Cardinals also traded Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the offseason. Lots of outfield movement in eight months.]
As for Ozuna and his injury, it seems as though it was slightly proactive, but obviously they wouldn’t force it if it wasn’t deemed necessary. In short, Ozuna’s arm strength in the outfield has been “compromised” this season by a right shoulder impingement. So on Wednesday, he visited a doctor in L.A. to get a cortisone injection, which will keep him out until at least September. “It will give him the freedom to compete the way he needs to compete,” interim manager Mike Shildt said. “This is something that had been impeding him a little bit, offensively and defensively, and he was working through. It just got to a point where we can be proactive and get it behind him.”
Impeding him indeed. According to Jennifer Langosch (MLB.com), Ozuna used to average 92.1 MPH on the top 10% of his throws from the outfield, but this season that number is down to 77.7 MPH. That’s an almost unbelievable drop. And his for his offense, well, let’s just say we may have gotten worked up for nothing when the Cardinals acquired him (for next to nothing) over the offseason.
2017: .312/.376/.548 (142 wRC+, 4.9 WAR)
2018: .275/.319/.409 (97 wRC+, 1.5 WAR)
As for the logistics, Ozuna played on Tuesday, so Wednesday is the latest this stint can be backdated, which means he’s not coming back until September 1st, at the earliest. Of course, his move to the disabled list coincides with the Cardinals’ pickup of Matt Adams from the Nationals, and their activation of rookie shortstop Yairo Munoz off the disabled list (optioning right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon to Triple-A).
So for the time being, the Cardinals’ starting outfield will consist of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Jose Martinez from left to right. What a difference between April and August, eh? (… says the Cubs fan with Cole Hamels on the mound and Daniel Murphy at second base tonight).
The Cardinals don’t play the Cubs (or Brewers) again until the final week of the season, so in terms of timing, this worked out well for them. They’ll still miss him in the meantime, no doubt, but better now than in a few weeks, I suppose. Still, they’ll have to push harder now than ever to stay in the race, and being a man down doesn’t help.