It's a great feeling as a fan when your team is coming up to bat and the little "Due Up" box flashes the three-four-five hitters. "Oh Yeah! The big boys are coming up," you say to yourself, with dreams of a big inning flashing across your mind.
Not all middles of the order are created equal. But every team has them. Since baseball was in its infancy, managers have chosen to put their top hitters in the middle of the batting order. Ruth-Gehrig-Meusal ('27 Yankees). Mays-Cepeda-McCovey ('63 Giants). Suzuki-Cust-Kouzmanoff ('10 A's).
Whether your No. 5 hitter is Barry Bonds ('93 Giants) or some guy named Bob Smith ('99 Devil Rays), the middle of the lineup is the best you got. If it ain't happening this inning, it's never gonna happen.
Here are how the lineup cores in the NL West shake out. Keep in mind that Prince Fielder could change things up, but there have been no rumors that any of these teams are interested.
Likely Sluggers: 3) Chase Headley 4) Jesus Guzman 5) Carlos Quentin
The recent addition of Carlos Quentin should help, but when a guy that hits .250 and can't get off the DL is considered "help," you know you have a problem.
Last season, the Padres used a combination of Chase Headley, Orlando Hudson and Ryan Ludwick in the middle of the order most games. That's 22 whole home runs. I can't even imagine what the rest of the lineup looked like.
First Baseman Jesus Guzman showed flashes of promise last season, and the Padres' offense as a whole wasn't as bad as they looked on paper. The 2012 version should be improved if Guzman takes the next step, Quentin can stay healthy and former Reds prospect Yonder Alonso justifies the Mat Latos trade.
With 600-foot fences at Petco Park, don't expect a lot of power numbers. This is still a work in progress.
Likely Sluggers: 3) Aubrey Huff 4) Buster Posey 5) Pablo Sandoval
The 2011 Giants looked at times like they were swinging with wiffle bats. There was no middle of the order. I think the seven-eight-nine spots just kept rotating. And the Giants made no efforts to improve their muscle. They are closing their eyes and pretending that Buster Posey's return from a gruesome ankle injury constitutes some sort of free-agent pickup.
Posey will definitely help, but if Aubrey Huff can't revert back to 2010 form, it might be another ugly offensive year in San Francisco. Third baseman, and 2011 All-star, Pablo Sandoval needs to stay in top form all season just to make this offense average. If Huff falters again, look for top prospect Brandon Belt to take his place in the middle of the order. New acquisitions Angel Pagan and Melky Carbrera will likely spread out around them.
Likely Sluggers: 3) Justin Upton 4) Chris Young 5) Paul Goldschmidt
The Diamondbacks won the division last year because they possess the best lineup, one through nine. In 2011, the Diamondbacks rotated their players through the batting order more than any other team in the division. Although Upton spent 153 games in the three hole, the four and five spots were moving on a daily basis.
The D-Backs will rely on shortstop Stephen Drew returning from a severe ankle injury, as well as the continued improvement of catcher Miguel Montero, who is coming off his best season as a professional. Young will continue to be an all-or-nothing power threat, and Goldschmidt showed flashes of stardom in limited time last season.
All in all, the Diamondbacks have the most balanced offense in the division. With Justin Upton in the middle, it doesn't much matter who they throw around him.
Likely Sluggers: 3) Andre Ethier, 4) Matt Kemp 5) James Loney
If Matt Kemp wins the Triple Crown and nobody notices, did it really happen? It's a question that goes unanswered after Kemp's Triple Crown bid fell short in 2011. Kemp is probably the best hitter in the division right now, but can the Dodgers put anything around him this year?
When you add right fielder Andre Ethier, the Dodgers might have the best one-two punch in the division. What keeps them out of the top spot, however, is the huge question mark regarding who will bat fifth. Jerry Sands? James Loney? Juan Uribe? Don Mattingly?
The Dodgers hope that Sands can be the guy. He showed tremendous power at Triple-A Albuquerque last summer and also saw 227 big league plate appearances. If not Sands, then it will have to be Loney, who has never come close to repeating his breakout rookie season.
After these guys, the pickings are slim. It will be another year or two before the Dodgers can afford to sign another middle-of-the-order bat.
Likely Sluggers: 1) Carlos Gonzalez 2) Troy Tulowitzki 3) Todd Helton
It's all about health for these guys (CarGo and Tulo and...T-Hel?). Gonzalez regressed last year after finishing third in the 2010 MVP vote, but that was mostly due to injury. The Rockies would love to see him plugged into that No. 3 spot for years to come. He's a true five-tool player.
Tulowitzki remains the best hitting shortstop in baseball. He's averaging 34 doubles, 28 home runs and 100 RBI the last two seasons despite missing 59 games. Always a streaky hitter, Tulowitzki can seem impossible to get out at times. Don't forget his absurd September 2010 stretch where he hit 15 home runs in 15 games, carrying fantasy teams everywhere to playoff glory.
Helton was supposed to be over the hill last season but found the fountain of youth. Gone are the days of the .450 OBP, but Helton is still dangerous. Should he start to act his age in 2012, newcomer Michael Cuddyer should fit in nicely.