Tao of Stieb: Enjoying rivals’ misfortunes

Toronto Blue Jays' Melky Cabrera at Fenway Park in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Toronto Blue Jays fans have endured some lousy years filled with bad fortune, bad health and – if we’re being honest – a few bad players. But now that things are going so well, there’s the temptation to quietly delight in the struggles of your rivals for a change.

Nobody is saying this is a particularly noble pursuit. It’s a poor life choice, like eating a whole bag of chips or drinking a whole bottle of wine by yourself: fun in the moment, but certainly unhealthy in the longer term.

Moreover, you’d probably be tempting fate to go on a full-on happy dance at the misery of others. But if you’re discreet enough, you can look around baseball and see some other teams with their hands wrapped around the cruddy end of the stick for a change.

One need not look much further than the Blue Jays’ own division to find some shallow satisfaction in others’ misfortune. The Boston Red Sox – last year’s exemplar of everything coming together blissfully all at once –are parked near the division’s basement, six games under .500. They’re coming off a 10-game losing streak, and have lost Clay Buchholz, Mike Napoli, Felix Doubront and Shane Victorino to injury within a short period of time.

Beyond the injuries, a narrative is building within their own clubhouse that last year’s success took its toll on the team. Jonny Gomes told USA Today this week “It’s tough. My body never shut down right at the end of the season. I didn’t get that normal rest.”

Whether if that’s true or not, the Red Sox have looked punchless at the plate, ranking in the bottom third of the league in slugging and home runs. And while one certainly wouldn’t want to get ahead of themselves in counting them out at this early point in the season, seeing John Farrell’s presidential maw twisted into painful grimaces has to be of some solace to Blue Jays fans.

The Red Sox aren’t the only perpetual AL East powerhouse scuffling. Though they sit just three games behind the Blue Jays in the standings, the New York Yankees have looked mostly forgettable up until now. But beyond the middling results in the early part of the season, the Bronx Bombers are seeing their strategy of loading up on expensive veterans backfire, as CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are all sidelined, perhaps for a while.

Add to that Ivan Nova’s Tommy John surgery, the never-ending issues with Michael Pineda and whatever the heck is going on with Hiroki Kuroda, and you’ve got a lot of reasons to wonder how they hang in through the rigours of the next four months.

Then again, they’re the Yankees. They could be awful and still win 90 games. So let’s not count them out.

But if you still feel the need to fill your boots with the tears of your enemies, then look no further than the Jays’ most recent opponent from Tampa Bay.

The Rays fell back behind Boston into the AL East basement after Wednesday’s loss to the Jays, and injuries have hurt them, too. Tampa Bay lost Matt Moore to the scourge of UCL injuries, and Ben Zobrist, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson have missed time as well.

One half of their catching tandem, Ryan Hanigan is out for a few more weeks, while his fiendish strike-stealing squatting mate Jose Molina might have had his brains rattled by a foul tip straight into his mask tonight.

Aside from injuries, though, this year’s edition of the Rays seems less fearsome than the extra two-percenters of yore. Zobrist and Evan Longoria are both slugging under .380, and even wunderkind Wil Myers has an underwhelming OPS of .660.

And if you listen close enough, you’ll hear a few fans whispering questions about the genius of Joe Maddon. (If he’d rather not go to replay on a run-scoring play, I’m sure we Jays fans will take Jose Bautista’s phantom tag of home in a one-run game.)

Again, one hot month – heck, a hot week – and all of those early indicators can swing around and correct themselves. But like the Yankees and Red Sox, the 2014 Rays seem… beatable.

One last note, if we’re getting all of the schadenfreude out of our system all at once: I can’t ever remember feeling great about the R.A. Dickey deal. But in a week where Dickey had one of his best outings as a Jay, it’s hard not to notice that Noah Syndergaard is on the shelf with an injury that is often a precursor to ligament replacement surgery. Meanwhile, Travis d’Arnaud’s slash line sits at .199/.280/.289 as a major leaguer as he works his way back to health after another injury.

Okay, so all of this is shallow. Sinful, even. One shouldn’t dwell on such things, really. But I couldn’t blame you if you were relieved that for once, it’s not happening to us.

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