Trading 'deadlines'

With the non-waiver trade deadline now surpassed, the rosters reasonably set, the wheat and chaff separated, the also-rans properly in their place, and two thirds of the schedule having come and gone it's time for the baseball season to get serious. The Dog Days of August have arrived.

Technically, 20 of the 30 teams are still in contention; that is if you define "a contender" with eight weeks to go as a team that's within six games of the last wild-card berth in each league, which is what MLB in its passion for parity chooses to do. You can sneer at this and argue any team that's only .500 and 10 games behind this late has no chance.

But if you do that you're not only dismissing the Red Sox -- which is reasonable -- but forgetting that the defending champion Cardinals were in roughly the same plight precisely a year ago. And that's not reasonable. After the madcap finish of the 2011 season featuring (among others) your favorite team (as if you need be reminded) few students of this crazy business will be anxious to declare anything over until it's over, thus further verifying the prophetic wisdom of Yogi Berra.

Who says a 162 game season is ridiculously too long? As the game has evolved in our times, the full season actually consists of three quite different seasons. The first runs until Memorial Day and means little while revealing even less. The second extends well into the summer beyond the All Star break as teams grope to find their viable roster while enduring the inevitable injuries (much on the rise) and sorting out attitude issues (even more on the rise) brought about by the constant shuffling of rosters and radical turnover of personnel. How well teams identity these problems and deal with them during this middle stage -- a process that climaxes with the July 31st trade deadline -- determines their fate in the third and final stage which we are now entering.

The team that by this point has truly ironed out all its kinks resolving its thorniest quirks while surviving the inescapable quota of health, attitude, and motivational issues thus emerging much stronger than it was at the start of the season is increasingly difficult to identity on the first of August. But it's fascinating to consider how rarely it proves to be the team that had been dominant to this point.

Times have changed. Teams just don't run away with it anymore. The wire to wire champ is almost extinct. In this generation, there has only been a handful. The Tigers and Mets for a year in the '80s. The Blue Jays, a couple of Yankees' editions, and maybe one Braves' team in the '90s. None, really, in more recent years.

Increasingly, smart teams recognize this and make regular season eminence less a priority. Call it the "St. Louis Cardinals syndrome." They have worked the new thinking to utter perfection twice in the last half dozen seasons. Your 2004 Red Sox were a text-book illustration of the thesis while the 2010 Giants were an even better example.

At the other extreme, the team that's been most often stung by all these strange new dynamics has obviously been the Yankees whose obsession with gearing for and dedicating themselves to the domination of the regular season increasingly looks counter-productive. If they continue to coast the rest of the way then get smacked in the opening payoff round by Oakland we may safely conclude they still don't get it.

A key factor in this new scenario has been the wild-card, that devilish modern contrivance that for some of us remains highly aggravating. But if it tends to negate the point and purpose of the regular season there's no question that it has added to the excitement. And it is excitement, not the purity of the process that sells. Or so they say. Now we have two wild-cards in both leagues. Does that double the wackiness and therefore the excitement?

Beyond doubt is the fact, however regrettable, that the wild-card is here to stay. There might even be the danger that its foremost champion -- and that would be the ex-used car salesman in charge of this game -- might be tempted to further double the wild-cards to four per league per year.

But is it smart in the long run to diminish the meaning and value of your regular season when the product you are selling consists of 2,340 regular season games? Ah, now that is the question nor does it remotely interest Czar Selig whose total obsession is the profits his game enjoys, here and now. One can almost hear Selig and his cronies muttering, "Let posterity take care of itself."

Hey, maybe in the end this year we'll have a world series matching the A's and the Pirates and wouldn't that be delightful! In the meantime, there's much to monitor.

The MVP races in both leagues. At the moment, the leaders are the two most sensational talents to hit the scene in years; 25 year old Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and 20 year old Mike Trout of the Angels. McCutchen is hitting .373 with 22 homers. Trout is hitting .347 with 33 stolen bases. Both dazzle on defense and play with dashing flair. Loath as I am to anoint mere kids for immortality before they've begun to shave, it must be said they seem the real deal which further obliges us to recall that once upon a time we said that about Freddie Lynn.

Comeback of the decade: That would be the inscrutable AJ Burnett, rebounding from his epic folly with the Yankees to become prime contender for the NL's Cy Young award. First NL hurler to reach 14 wins, he's doing it the old-fashioned way with long outings of sharp, disciplined pitching high in strike outs and quality outings. It's not a mere comeback by AJ Burnett, it's a bloody metamorphosis. To think, the Yankees actually gave him away.

Team to root for: Has to be Pittsburgh's Pirates. After 19 consecutive dreadful losing seasons a storied franchise rather lost in time emerges from a deep sleep. What a story. McCutchen and Burnett are two keys. But the Bucs brim with young talent; Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, James McDonald. All nicely blended by enlightened new ownership and a rousing manager in Clint Hurdle. Haven't heard of these guys, you say. You will!

Team most likely to implode: My nominee is the Rangers. Suddenly their pitching looks awfully fragile. Josh Hamilton -- also fragile -- must snap out of it.

Am also not convinced of the Yankees' inevitability although a playoff berth would appear safe, the curious reservations of Bobby Valentine notwithstanding. In the NL, the Nationals remain unproven.

Team most likely to explode: Depends what you mean by the term "explode." Whether the connotation is negative as in "falling apart," or positive as in "taking off," the winner among baseball observers would probably be the Red Sox. They are as likely to finish last as make the World Series. Who can fathom them? Wise folks need not try.

Most interesting character under the microscope: Has to be Valentine. Un-mellowed by age. As mercurial as ever. Give him credit for being contemptuous of the conventional wisdom. But does it all add up to a death wish? The ending will have a certain Viking quality to it. Of that much, you can be sure.

Other players to watch: Only the more fascinating examples include the Reds' Joey Votto when he comes back from injury. The A's Cuban phenom Yoenis Cespedes disdained by the big-shot teams. The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg rebounding from Tommy John surgery and facing a shutdown. The Rays David Price. Can he win 25? The Yanks' Ichiro. Will he make a difference? Does Dan Duquette realize atonement in Baltimore? Does Don Mattingly overcome all the doubts in Los Angeles? Can Adam Dunn rebound from being AL's worst player to home-run champ?

There's lots to groove on these next few weeks. Welcome to "the Dog Days."

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...