Martin Prado doubled and scored in the first inning and doubled to drive in a run in the fifth, which was more than enough run support for Braves pitcher Mike Minor.
The young left-hander finished his impressive second half by limiting the Mets to three hits in 6-1/3 innings of a 2-0 win Saturday night at Turner Field, the sixth win in seven games for the Braves. But they trail NL East leader Washington by four games with only four to play.
The Nationals beat St. Louis 6-4 in 10 innings late Saturday, clinching at least a share of the division title and reducing their magic number to one to clinch the title outright. One more Washington win or one Braves loss will give Washington the NL East championship.
“Everybody’s watching [the scoreboard] to see what’s going on,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said before the Nationals-Cardinals game was completed. “It’s just part of the game. We’re already in the Wild Card game and we’re already playing at home. We’d like to win the division, so we’ve got to hope they [Nationals] lose.”
Atlanta already secured a wild-card berth and would host the Cardinals in the Wild Card game Friday for the right to advance to a division series, where Minor could start Game 2 after Tim Hudson starts the opener.
The Mets didn’t advance a runner to second base until the seventh inning against Minor (11-10), who is 5-0 in his past seven starts including 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA and .129 opponents’ average in his past five.
“Outstanding,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “That’ll be his last start of the regular season’ what a hell of a way to go.”
The crowd of 48,310 was the fourth sellout of the season at Turner Field and second in as many nights, and a lot of those folks grew concerned in the ninth when the Mets put two runners on against closer Craig Kimbrel after a Dan Uggla error, a wild pitch and a hit-by-pitch that stung David Wright and the umpire as well.
But Kimbrel struck out the next two batters, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, for his National League-leading 41st save.
The Braves are 11-3 with a 2.01 ERA in their past 14 games, and Minor has won all three of his starts in that period. He’s allowed just 12 hits and three runs in 31 innings over his last five games, and three hits by the Mets were the second-most he’s allowed in that stretch.
“I was kind of excited that we got the win tonight, and also that I’m not even anymore,” Minor said. “I’m 11-10, so that’s a winning record this season. That was big for me.”
It’s truly been a tale of two seasons for Minor, who has a 2.21 ERA and .193 opponents’ average in 15 starts since the beginning of July, after posting a 6.20 ERA and .271 opponents’ average in 15 starts through the end of June.
“I think his turning point was the game against the Yankees at home,” McCann said, referring to a June 12 game when Minor allowed five hits, one run and one walk in 7-1/3 innings against New York. “He came out and attacked them and trusted his stuff. Once he got through the Yankees and showed himself that he could do that, he could get through anybody.
“I think it was a real confidence boost for him, and since then he’s been as good as the come in baseball, really. He’s been one of the better pitchers in the game the second half, and it’s good to see him keep getting better and better.”
Wright’s ground-rule double with one out in the seventh made him the first to reach second against Minor, at which point Gonzalez went to his bullpen, which was without Eric O’Flaherty on Saturday due to back stiffness.
Chad Durbin got Scott Hairston to fly out and rookie lefty Luis Avilan struck out Duda with a runner at third to end the seventh inning, after Avilan balked the runner to third when he slipped during his delivery on a previous pitch.
The Braves have won 11 of their past 13 games against the Mets and have a 11-6 record against them entering Sunday’s series finale. Atlanta will close the regular season with a three-game series at Pittsburgh starting Monday.
Prado’s two doubles raised his league-leading total to 60 multi-hit games and his doubles total to 42, also among the NL’s top five. He’s hit .391 with 27 hits in his past 17 games to raise his average to .305.
He’s been the most consistent hitter on a Braves team that hasn’t reached double-digits in hits in any of its past 10 games, and scored three runs or fewer seven times in that period.
“For the most part our offense had been kind of in spurts,” Gonzalez said. “Anything concerns you this time of year. A little banged up, injuries, not scoring any runs…. It’s a little bit concerning but we scored a run today with a double, a wild pitch and a get-him-in on a ground ball by [Jason] Heyward, so we’ll get it going.”
Both of Prado’s doubles came with two strikes, which should not come as a surprise. He’s among the majors’ best hitters with two strikes, with a .291 average. Among Braves lineup regulars, the next-best two-strike average before Saturday belonged to Chipper Jones (.206).
Prado actually has more doubles (25), more homers (six) and more RBIs (38) with two strikes than he does with less than two strikes. He swings at just 8 percent of first pitches, the fewest among NL hitters.
Prado doubled with one out in the first inning off Mets right-hander Chris Young (4-9) on a 1-2 pitch after taking two called strikes. He advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Heyward’s groundout for a 1-0 lead.
In the fifth, Andrelton Simmons led off with a single and advanced on Minor’s sacrifice bunt. After Jose Constanza struck out, Prado doubled off the left-center wall on an 0-2 pitch, missing a home run by about two feet.