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"She kills me with rosegarden thorns..."

I don't like the Stone Temple Pilots, but lyrics from their song "Atlanta" seemed appropriate.

The offensive juggernaut in St. Louis leads the National League in runs scored per game, with 5.27. The rest of this list is pretty interesting:

St. Louis - 5.27
LA Dodgers - 4.98
Atlanta - 4.82
Colorado - 4.76
Florida - 4.76
NY Mets - 4.69
San Diego - 4.59
Cincinnati - 4.43
San Francisco - 4.37
Chicago Cubs - 4.36
Arizona - 4.33
Philadelphia - 4.33
Milwaukee - 4.32
Washington - 4.09
Pittsburgh - 3.88
Houston - 3.64

Atlanta's bolded because they're the team that caught my eye when I was looking at the standings. More interestingly, last night, I was listening to the Mets/Braves broadcast, and Gary Cohen, the Met broadcaster, said that the Braves were sorely lacking in pitching because of the injuries to Hampton and Thompson.

Let's take a step back. The Braves' strengthened their pitching staff this offseason by adding Hudson and Smoltz, and their lineup was going to be the big worry. Their pitching has been below its expected level, with Horacio Ramirez being inconsistent, Danny Kolb being disastrous, and Thompson and Hampton being hurt.

And the huge weakness, the lineup, is keeping them only a game and a half back of the surging Marlins, who just had the interleague fortune of playing the Devil Rays while the Mets, Phillies, and Braves took on superior AL opponents.

Of course, the question has to be: how are they scoring runs?

XR - Braves

Chipper Jones - 31.38
Andruw Jones - 30.91
Marcus Giles - 19.63
Adam LaRoche - 19.52
Rafael Furcal - 17.30
Johnny Estrada - 14.96
Brian Jordan - 12.34
Raul Mondesi - 12.18
Pete Orr - 8.65
Wilson Betemit - 7.87
Ryan Langerhans - 7.78
Julio Franco - 4.27
Eddie Perez - 3.64
Mike Hampton - 2.72
John Thomson - 1.98
Horacio Ramirez - 1.67
Adam Bernero - 0.50
Brayan Pena - 0.23
John Smoltz - 0.13
Tim Hudson - 0.10
Danny Kolb - -0.10

The offense stems from the Jones boys, as it always seems to do, but they're not alone, honestly. Giles has stayed healthy so far, for the most part, and is producing serviceably (.282/.335/.430).

But this doesn't really answer the question: where are the Braves getting their runs? The Jones boys are doing OK, but neither is truly carrying the team, and Chipper's been hurt at times, too.

If you consider the way Betemit in Chipper's absence, you can see that the Braves are getting outstanding production from third base. Even with several fewer games, Chipper is third in the majors in production from 3rd baseman (behind A-Rod and Glaus). The scary thing about the Braves is probably better explicable through VORP:

Chipper Jones: 24.1
Andruw Jones: 16.7
Marcus Giles: 7.8
Adam Laroche: 6.5
Wilson Betemit: 5.1
Johnny Estrada: 4.2
Mike Hampton: 4.1
Pete Orr: 3.7
Horacio Ramirez: 2.3
John Thomson: 1.4
Adam Bernero: 0.9
Eddie Perez: 0.7
Tim Hudson: 0.3
Rafael Furcal: 0
Brayan Pena: -0.1
Danny Kolb: -0.1
John Smoltz: -0.5
Ryan Langerhans: -1.8
Julio Franco: -2.9
Brian Jordan: -3.4
Raul Mondesi: -4.5

Yep. The two starting outfielders are playing below replacement level.

Two ways to look at that:

  1. The Braves corner outfield experiment is disastrous.
  2. They've won in spite of that and corner outfielders aren't exactly scarce on the trade market.
I am still confused. I don't know how the Braves can be third in the NL in runs scoring in spite of two noncontributers in the outfield.

I then looked at situational hitting, which I hypothesize can skew a team's run scoring estimates. Perhaps just luck has been the factor? I compared OPS with men in scoring position v. every team's norm. The Braves hit .040 better OPS-wise with runners in scoring position. That's a bit over, but not by too much. It ranks #7 in the majors, behind the powerhouses in Washington, Seattle, and Houston. So that could be a slight factor (the Braves team XR is a good 15 below its total runs), but it can't be the whole thing.

I hate to give up so easily, but I came looking for answers and have found none. Any ideas?