Red Sox feature top middle of the order

Adrian Gonzalez leads the majors in both hitting (.357) and RBIs (71). AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

The most important part of a major league lineup is the middle of the order, the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters. Along with producing the most runs, they are counted on to hit the best pitchers and their best stuff at any time in the count and with runners in scoring position.

The ideal middle of the lineup would have three switch-hitters. It's important to achieve a balance; the preference is to have two who can hit from the left side because the majority of pitchers throw right-handed and it helps against situational pitchers late in the game. Having three left-handed or right-handed hitters in a row can leave you susceptible.

Teams with three impact hitters in the middle of the order score the most runs because opposing pitchers can't pitch around them. These hitters usually take advantage of mistake pitches since it’s tough for any pitcher to get through three consecutive hitters without making at least one mistake. The qualities of the best middle-of-the-order hitters are the following: tremendous bat speed; above-average pitch recognition; loud, consistent, sweet-spot contact; incredible hand/eye coordination; mental toughness; and supreme concentration and focus.

They also grind out at-bats, working the counts deep until they find the pitch they want to handle. They always want to be up with the game on the line, and have the ability to foul pitches off until they get one to hit. When they get jammed, they are able to hit a bloop over second base for an RBI, or hit one off the end of the bat can get a sacrifice fly out of it.

Here are my rankings of the best middle-of-the-order lineups in the major leagues today (* -- on disabled list):

1 -- Boston Red Sox

Adrian Gonzalez (L)

Kevin Youkilis (R)

David Ortiz (L)

2 -- New York Yankees

Mark Teixeira (B)

Alex Rodriguez (R)

Robinson Cano (L)

3 -- St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Holliday (R)

*Albert Pujols (R)

Lance Berkman (B)

4 -- Milwaukee Brewers

Ryan Braun (R)

Prince Fielder (L)

Casey McGehee (R)

5 -- Texas Rangers

Josh Hamilton (L)

Adrian Beltre (R)

Michael Young (R)

Nelson Cruz (R)

6 -- Detroit Tigers

Brennan Boesch (L)

Miguel Cabrera (R)

Victor Martinez (B)

7 -- Cincinnati Reds

Joey Votto (L)

Scott Rolen (R)

Jay Bruce (L)

The Minnesota Twins would have been on this list had it not been for the injuries to Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young. The Colorado Rockies also would have made the top seven if Carlos Gonzalez, now leading off, had remained in the middle of their order. The Blue Jays (Jose Bautista and Adam Lind) and the Dodgers (Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp) are two-thirds of the way there, while the Marlins (Gaby Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton) might make this list by September.

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