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On Baseball

Red Sox build on great start against Astros

Will Middlebrooks (16) is greeted by Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the plate after both scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double in the second inning.

JARED WICKERHAM/GETTY IMAGES

Will Middlebrooks (16) is greeted by Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the plate after both scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double in the second inning.

The Red Sox are having a good time at the Astros’ expense in this series. You almost see hitters stumbling over one another in can’t-wait mode to face a Houston pitcher.

Let me at them.

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I’ll bet Dennis Drinkwater, Joseph Abboud, Jeremy Kapstein, and Peter Gammons, all of whom have prominent seats behind home plate, wouldn’t mind stepping up to the batter’s box against Astros pitching.

Even the guys who aren’t hitting are benefiting from the miracle cure that is Houston. Red Sox manager John Farrell spoke about the good approaches at the plate struggling hitters such as Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew have had the past few games. True, what Farrell left out was the fact the Sox hitters are facing this brutal staff.

How bad is it?

The Astros have a 5.77 ERA, last in the majors and almost a full run higher than No. 29, the Los Angeles Angels. They own a 1.59 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .293 against them. In all three of those major categories, they rank 30th.

Middlebrooks, hitting .184 at the start of Saturday’s game, reached base three times with two hits and RBI. Stephen Drew, hitting .119 to start the game, reached base three times with two walks and an RBI single.

Thank you, Astros.

For Middlebrooks, it’s not easy being a sophomore. After some rookie success, the opposition tends to gang up on you, finding your weaknesses and making nasty pitches. They take the scouting reports from the previous season and throw you every pitch you didn’t hit last year. And they dare you to prove them wrong.

Since the April 7 game against Toronto in which he hit three homers, pitchers have adjusted again. But the Astros have made him look like his old self.

And the Astros have brought out the best in Drew.

The shortstop has been a major disappointment as a hitter, but he’s trying to get out of the funk in any way he can. The Astros are helping.

The Astros are not a major league team, and those teams that lose to them should be embarrassed. But the Astros don’t pretend to be major league team.

We know what they’re doing — building for a better day like the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays have done. In the meantime, veteran teams like Boston should clean up against Houston.

The Astros almost resemble the Red Sox from late August on last season. They have few major league players and the pitching staff is dreadful, though on Sunday the Red Sox face a real major leaguer in Bud Norris, who should draw some interest by teams at the trading deadline.

The Red Sox are cleaning up against poor teams in general. They are 11-1 against teams with losing records, 6-6 vs. teams with winning ones. However you slice and dice it, the Red Sox have taken full advantage of their schedule.

The Red Sox have not suffered any letdowns against poor opponents. On Saturday night, the Sox fell behind early but got right after it with four runs in the second inning. Felix Doubront almost embarrassed himself by allowing two runs in a sloppy first inning.

But the Astros were a good cure for Doubront’s ailments, too. After all, how bad would you look losing to the Astros because you gave up two first-inning runs? So Doubront stepped up his game and lasted into the seventh inning.

At some point this season we’re going to see what’s real and what’s fluff. We’re going to see whether the Red Sox can beat the good teams, but right now they’re beating up the teams they’re supposed to beat up — a sweep of the Indians last week in Cleveland and three wins here against the Astros with John Lackey making his return from the disabled list Sunday.

The Astros have been very good to David Ortiz, who is certainly having fun. He had two more hits, a sacrifice fly, a walk, and three RBIs in five plate appearances. In spring training, he feared that he might not have enough protection in the lineup, but that concern seems to be gone. Mike Napoli has protected him very well, leading the league in RBIs.

Ortiz has stepped to the plate very confidently against the Astros, almost like he does when he’s taking batting practice. Even his outs are hit long and hard. He’s 6 for 11 with two homers and six RBIs against the Astros. Nice way to break back into baseball after a long bout with an Achilles’ tendon issue.

Of course, the Astros can’t cure everyone. Daniel Bard entered the game and walked the first two batters and was removed.

This part of the Red Sox schedule has been a gift. The Red Sox ended the night with the best record in baseball. They needed this schedule break because the Orioles and Yankees have been relentless in keeping within 2½ games of them in the American League East.

At some point the Red Sox will face a tough team or two, but for now, they’re taking what’s been given to them — the gift of the Houston Astros.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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