Pre-summer preview

Memorial Day weekend marks the first distant and fog-bound turn in MLB's long, pokey, and relentless regular season and thereby the first valid occasion for offering tentative suggestions about where we're at and might be headed. At this point, sensible teams know what they've got; or at least should. More important, they know what they ain't got. Although the picture this season is murkier than usual.

Back when they were breaking spring-camp, the conventional wisdom was adamant that the pacesetters in the AL would be the Red Sox, Tigers, and Rangers with the Rays and Angels foremost in the second tier. While over in the NL, the ordained were the Nationals, Cardinals, and above all the Dodgers with scattered votes for the Braves and Pirates.

So here we are two months later with nearly a third of the regular-season slate already in the books and half the alleged cream of the crop boasts losing records with two -- the Dodgers and Red Sox -- having been embarrassingly shoddy while only one -- the Tigers -- has essentially matched lofty expectations. It's yet more proof, if any were needed, that the absolutely worst time to assess a team's potential, let alone predict how it will do, is at the end of pre-season.

If the scene is more muddled than usual this year with more teams seemingly more erratic, there's a governing reason. It is injuries. Injuries are the wildcard. The injury factor is out of control. No team has been entirely spared and several have already been fairly clobbered. In this the baseball season of runaway medical emergency and gathering triage it is likely it won't be the fittest that ultimately survive, but the luckiest.

A month ago in this space we looked lengthily at the astounding injury rampage highlighted by a half dozen new enrollees in the illustrious annals of Tommy John surgery that so dominated the season's first month. The second month verifies all of that was no fluke.

Herewith is the month of May's honor roll of just some of the more notable of the battered and bruised who landed on the disabled list in the on-going, so-called "epidemic" that the Commissioner -- poor fellow -- says is causing him to "lose sleep at night."

Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar, and Matt Harrison of the Rangers; all probably lost for the season. Snake-bitten Texas had 17 players grace their DL in the season's first seven weeks. From the Red Sox Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino (again), Will Middlebrooks, and Felix Doubront went down. From the Yankees it was Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Shawn Kelley, and Carlos Beltran. Just as the Orioles were getting Manny Machado back they were losing Matt Wieters and also Tommy Hunter, their closer. The Rays lost Ben Zobrist. The Indians lost Jeff Kipnis. The Royals lost Luke Hochevar. The White Sox lost Jose Abreu, the electrifying rookie from Cuba merely leading the league in homers when felled.

Two more superb young pitchers joined the Tommy John legion; Miami's 21 year old phenom, Jose Fernandez, was a crushing loss. While it's not yet official, the Mets' Noah Syndergaard, an equally brilliant prospect, appears next in line. Ulnar collateral transplant syndrome is the most baffling malaise ever to hit this game.

There were others. The day after Boston's Napoli went down with a hand injury incurred sliding so did Colorado's Nolan Arenado the very same way just as Washington's Ryan Zimmerman had done just days earlier. I'm willing to bet more players have been injured flopping into bases the first two month of this season than were thus felled the entire decade of the Fifties. They practiced sliding back then. Plus, sliding head-first was a no-no.

Also down; Cody Rasmus, JJ Putz, Corey Hart, Matt Latos, Mark Trumbo, Jason Grilli, Eric Young, Jr., Cio Gonzalez, AJ Griffin, Geovany Soto. There are more. I know you get the point. But it can't be emphasized too firmly.

If the injury thing is the most alarming factor of the season thus far, three other relatively odd slices of modern baseball phenomena introduced by the relentlessly tinkering Bud Selig regime have been equally conspicuous.

For about a hundred years the most drastic change in the game's MO came when they reintroduced the sacrifice fly-rule followed a few years later by that transcendental moment when they lowered the mound a couple of inches. Holy Cow! For roughly a century the game was impervious to change.

Now, in a single season, Baseball simultaneously experiments with vague resolutions aimed at eliminating crushing encounters between catchers and base-runners at home plate; the highly problematic high-tech second-guessing of the umpires; and something entirely off the wall, the radical shifting of fielders, a rage rapidly turning into a mania. Of the three striking novelties, it's the third -- much to everyone's surprise -- that's impacting heaviest.

The home-plate collision issue remains confused. No one has satisfactorily defined what precisely constitutes an unacceptable block of the base runner along the baseline or at the plate by the catcher. There have been disputes but no major controversies; not yet! But there will be. And it'll get ugly.

Overall, the use of TV to effectively umpire the umpires has gone better than many expected, which is to say there have been fewer controversies and aggravating interruptions in the game. Interesting calls have been reversed; still more have been upheld. In balance, has it improved the game? Not really! Has it taken something away from the game? Yes! Is there any turning back? None!

The strategic realigning of defense by the shifting of fielders is easily the most fascinating new dynamic. It's added a whole new dimension to the playing of the game and, also, the observing of it. In certain situations involving certain teams and players in particular ballparks (all being variables) you can have as many as four even five defenders playing technically out of position on a given pitch or extended at-bat, all of the deployment dictated by the tendencies of the hitter as determined by computers. It can get alternately crazy or brilliant, but invariably interesting.

Of course, the strategy could easily be negated if modern day hitters knew how to shorten-up on the bat or were willing to disdain pulling the ball, go with the pitch, or even -- heaven help us -- bunt. But few hitters think much when they go up to the plate lugging their lumber. It's purely a Pavlovian experience. Few are the exceptions. But if they'd over-shifted Ichiro Suzuki in his prime he'd have hit .800.

Mainly we have Joe Maddon, the very smart, creative, and computer-savvy manager of the Rays, to thank (I think) for the shifting shtick. He's the master of this gimmickry and its boldest practitioner. In terms of strategic value, influence on the flow of games, and challenge to conventional wisdom it's the most intriguing new development since another very crafty manager of our times, the A's Tony LaRussa, led in the re-thinking of the role of relief pitchers. Even after a century and a half there are new ideas to be introduced. Whatta Game!

The roughly first third of the season finds interesting races developing in five of the six divisions. Only in one -- the AL Central where the Tigers look too strong for the rest of the pack -- might the issue be already essentially decided. At the other extreme, there are teams that have already played their way out of it. If you're a fan of the Astros, Cubs, Padres, maybe the D'backs, it's not too early to start waiting until next year.

Actually, your Red Sox were running in that same dreary company on the strength of their epic 10-game losing streak. As Memorial Day dawned they boasted baseball's fourth worst record, quite a comeuppance considering all the happy ragtime featured in and by "the Nation" as recently as spring training. The Braves, a rather lethargic first-place team, graciously snapped them out of their swoon.

With plenty of time left your lads will be back in the race, doubtless soon. No one is running away with the AL East this year. With any luck it will be a five-team monster mash to the bitter end. That would be nice.

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 ...