FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox haven't exactly been a dominant team of late. They missed the playoffs entirely in both 2010 and 2011 and haven't won a postseason game since 2008.
But when you compare them to the Houston Astros, it's no contest.
Mark Melancon, obtained in a deal between the Sox and Houston which sent Jed Lowrie to the Astros last winter, is happy to be back with a team capable of contending.
"It's a different atmosphere for sure, and I'm excited for it," said Melancon Thursday morning after reporting to camp. "Everything I've seen is top-notch."
Melancon was drafted by the Yankees and made his major-league debut for them before being dealt to the Astros. Now, he'll experience the rivalry from another perspective.
"I got a taste of a winning environment in New York and now I'm on the other side, which is just as exciting,'' said Melancon. "I'm so excited. I've been on the other side for so long. It's bickering back and forth and you hear the differences but you always have respect for your competition. Now I'm on the other side of the fence, which is the better side, so I'm looking forward to it.
"I have all respect for the Yankees. They're first class. It's very similar, actually, in how the Yanks and Sox go about things. Winning is a priority and that shows.''
Winning wasn't a reality in Houston in Melancon's two seasons with the Astros. After a somewhat respectable 76-86 season in 2010, the Astros dipped to 56-106 last season.
"When you lose over 100 games, it's struggle,'' he said. "It's not necessarily fun to lose like that. Everybody gave it 100 percent, but you show up to the ballpark and you've lost six in a row, it's tough."
Competing in the American League East is unlike any other division in the game.
"It's just more cutthroat,'' he said. "Everybody has a chance to win and I think the Northeast takes baseball a little more seriously all the way around and that just tends to brings everybody's excitement level up. I missed that 100 percent."