The Pittsburgh Pirates have by far been the biggest surprise in Major League Baseball as teams reach the All-Star break of the 2011 season.
The Pirates enter the All-Star break with an astounding 47-43 record and sit only one game out of first place in the National League's Central Division.
The team has been plagued with injuries in the first half, losing starting catcher Ryan Doumit, third baseman Pedro Alvarez and left fielder Jose Tabata—three key defensive and offensive threats to the Pirates' lineup.
But Pittsburgh has gotten amazing pitching all around, which was thought to be the suspect part of the team coming into the 2011 campaign.
This slideshow features the Pirates' batting lineup if all injured players are back and healthy, and this is where I would put them defensively, as well as the batting position.
Alex Presley was called up after left fielder Jose Tabata was placed on the disabled list with a quad strain.
Presley has been more than impressive, as he has 19 hits and a batting average of .365. He has a slugging percentage of .577 and a very impressive OPS of 1.001.
I put Presley at the leadoff spot because of his ability to get on base, then his speed on the base paths.
Presley leads off a Pirates batting lineup that will be loaded with speed from the top of the lineup all the way through to the bottom.
The face of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the heart of their defense, Andrew McCutchen has found himself to be one of the top center fielders in the National League. McCutchen has made the 2011 All-Star game, along with Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan.
McCutchen had a great month of June, batting .347 and bringing his average up to a respectable .289 at the break.
With McCutchen batting second, it will allow him to get better looks from pitchers and more solid at-bats.
With Presley on base, it allows the Pirates to play small ball as well, utilizing both Presley's and McCutchen's speed on the base paths to move runners up or use more hit-and-runs.
McCutchen seems to only be improving as the season has progressed and will more than likely have his average above .300 before the season is over.
"The Pittsburgh Kid" as Walker has come to be called, has grown into a great defensive second baseman and a solid offensive threat. He is batting .264 at the All-Star break and leads the team with 59 RBI.
Walker is a good fit in the No. 3 spot with his ability to switch-hit and power capabilities. He is a big threat with runners on base and seems to do his best at the plate when runners are in scoring position.
Batting third and having either Presley or McCutchen on first base, a hit to the gap will more than likely score the speedsters.
Tabata is a very good young player who made his way into the Pirates' starting lineup last year, where fans had the chance to watch him play.
Tabata batted .299 with 405 total at-bats and an OPS of .746 in 2010. These were outstanding numbers for a rookie coming in midway through the season. Before his injury this year, Tabata was batting .265 with an OPS of .705.
He is a solid defender and a solid at-bat. When he returns I see Tabata being a true threat at the No. 4 spot, and he can bring good speed, as well as power, to the plate in this lineup.
Alvarez is yet another product of the Pirates' farm system fans had the opportunity to see in his major league debut at third base last year.
Alvarez batted .256 last season and finished his rookie year with 16 home runs and 64 RBI—solid numbers for a rookie third baseman.
With his early injury this year, it is hard to say how he will finish the season and what his numbers are going to be. Alvarez is still a deep threat at the plate, and if he can get back to a healthy state and regain his confidence, he can be a very good No. 5 hitter in the lineup.
Garrett Jones has been hit or miss so far this year, batting .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBI.
Jones had a strong month of June, batting .297 with an OPS of .812. He has also hit 14 doubles so far this season.
Batting in the sixth spot is a good fit for Jones. He does not have the greatest speed on the base paths, but he has the ability to be a home run threat every time he steps to the plate.
Along with being a home run threat, Jones is also a great line-drive hitter, which can be seen by the number of doubles he has produced already this year.
If Jones can put together a good month of July like he did in June, he could contribute a lot of RBI batting sixth.
Chase d'Arnaud has been one of the newest editions to the Pirates' lineup. He has found himself playing with Pittsburgh the past few weeks, and has shown he is a solid defender and speed threat on the bases.
When d'Arnaud gets on the bases, it is exciting to watch him run. He can turn an ordinary single into a double or a double into a triple in a heartbeat.
He is also a great stealing threat, which can put him into scoring position very quickly.
The reason why d'Arnaud is batting in the seventh spot is because of his lack of plate appearances and experience in the big leagues.
Having speed in the bottom-third of the lineup though could be a great asset to the Pirates, and with d'Arnaud's speed, getting on base could quickly turn into the next at-bat coming with a runner in scoring position.
With the Pirates' catcher situation and the lack of offense they are getting out of their catchers, getting Ryan Doumit back behind the plate seems like a key thing the Pirates need right now.
Doumit has been injured the majority of this season with an ankle injury, and the Pirates have not been able to produce a catcher who can both play the position well and also be a good offensive player.
With Doumit back in the lineup, the Pirates would be able to have a solid lineup from top to bottom.
He sits in the eighth spot because of his absence from the game for such a long time, but looking at the whole lineup, batting eighth does not look as bad as what some may think. Having someone like Doumit batting in this spot shows just how much depth the Pirates have right now on offense and just how good they could be at the plate.
The Pirates' pitchers will bring up the bottom of the lineup in hopes of bunting men over, drawing a walk or getting hit by a pitch.
Looking at this healthy Pirates lineup it is easy to see just how potent they could be if they can get more people hitting the ball in the second half of the season.
The Pirates' lineup is built more on the speed side of things rather than power, which means smart at-bats and running are going to score them runs and give their pitching staff those much-needed runs.
If everybody can get healthy and back into the starting lineup, I believe this is the most formidable batting lineup Clint Hurdle could send out against any team the Pirates will face the rest of the season—and hopefully into a September division title run.
Let's go, Bucs.