Posted on June 29, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

St. Louis Cardinals Marcell Ozuna
Image via MSN.com

Amidst a team-wide slump, the St. Louis Cardinals are about to lose one of their best offensive players. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna will be placed on the 10-day Injured List Saturday after hurting multiple fingers on his right hand during Friday’s loss to the Padres. The Cardinals don’t have a confirmed diagnosis yet, but the fear is that Ozuna has a broken middle finger, an injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time.

Ozuna hurt both the middle and ring fingers on his right hand while sliding into 1st base on a pickoff throw. He was in obvious pain right away and was called out on the play following a review. Ozuna underwent X-rays at the ballpark, but Cardinals manager Mike Schildt declined to confirm or deny that the test revealed a fracture. However, Shildt did say the injury is “significant enough where he’s got to go on the IL.”

The 28-year-old Ozuna is the last player the Cardinals can afford to lose right now. He’s been the team’s best offensively player this season, hitting .259 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs. He also has a team-high .847 OPS, which is the best of his career outside of the 2017 season.

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“It’s a dent, for sure,” said Shildt. “This is a guy who’s had an All-Star-caliber first half in all facets of the game — excellent defense, runs the bases really well and, clearly, he’s hit 20 homers. We’ve got to find a way to replace him.”

The timing of the injury is also a huge blow for the Cardinals. The team’s one run in Friday’s loss snapped a 19-inning scoreless streak. The Cardinals are averaging just over three runs per game during the second half of June, and taking their most productive hitter out of the lineup isn’t likely to help the situation.

“We’re just trying to figure out a way to score runs,” Shildt lamented after Friday’s game. “We’re doing what we can to put ourselves into the best position we can on the bases. But, ultimately, we’ve got to drive people in.”

The loss of Ozuna will open up more playing time in left field for Jose Martinez, who has been a part-time player this season. Martinez has proved himself to be a productive big league player the past two seasons. Despite diminished playing time this season, he’s hitting .282 with an OPS of .743. He should help make up for some of the productivity the Cardinals won’t be getting from Ozuna for the immediate future.

That being said, Martinez will be a drop-off from Ozuna defensively. It also limits the depth St. Louis has in the outfield. Tyler O’Neill is the most likely player to take Ozuna’s spot on the roster. But his productivity in the majors has been limited this year. He also returned from a brief stint on the IL earlier this week.

Despite their recent offensive struggles, the Cardinals are just three games off the pace in the NL Central and two games out of a Wild Card spot. But it will be a challenge to remain within striking distance while Ozuna is on the IL. Regardless of how long Ozuna is out, the Cardinals need some of their veteran hitters like Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Dexter Fowler to start stepping up. Otherwise, the injury to Ozuna could be what sinks the Cardinals in 2019.

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