Three Cuts: Braves nip Mets, net season-high 6th straight win

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel logged his 26th save of the 2014 season on Tuesday night.

You’d have to go back to late August of last year to find the last time the Braves notched six straight victories. For that particular stretch (Aug. 25-31), Atlanta averaged just 3.3 runs per outing … but held the opposition to two runs or less five times.

Fast forward to the present, as the Braves have tallied five or more runs four times during the current streak, while holding the opposition to three or less runs five times — with the lone exception coming on Tuesday.

In other words, the two streaks run very similar to how the Braves operate when they’re going through normal 10-game stretches of 7-3 or 8-2. It’s substance over style, details over star power … and relying on different sources to pull out various victories.

Tuesday’s offensive hero was Andrelton Simmons, the only Braves hitter to collect multiple hits and multiple RBI. But he also had help — in the form of three crucial Atlanta steals (Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton) and four two-out RBI, from an unsung list that includes rookie Christian Bethancourt (first MLB RBI) and starting pitcher Mike Minor (more on him later).

In his postgame address, Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez was equal parts pleased and low-key about the recent surge, beaming over the club’s steals and clutch hitting but stopping short of making any sweeping declarations.

Braves: Next Up

Instead, he simply quipped "good for us," before moving on to the next topic.

The timing of this streak is fortuitous, as well, since the Braves (46-38, 1st place) lead the equally effective Nationals (45-38, winners of four straight) by a mere 1/2 game. That tete-a-tete (from afar) should make the final two weeks of the first half exciting, even though no National League East trophies will be awarded at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

After all, this isn’t 1981 (old strike-shortened, split-season reference wasted on young Web readers).

Minor looked sharp early on, facing just seven hitters and recording three strikeouts in the first two frames.

But things regressed quickly over the next seven outs, as the Braves southpaw surrendered four runs (thanks to a pair of two-run dingers) and nine hits over 4 1/3 innings — tied for his shortest outing of the year (May 7 vs. St. Louis).

The first homer allowed (Curtis Granderson) should have been a solo shot. In the 3rd, Mets outfielder Juan Lagares reached base on a bunt single — the result of Minor waiting a milli-second for a charging Chris Johnson to duck before the throw.

That was the difference between Lagares beating the throw to first base … and being out by a good half-step. Two batters later, Granderson belted a 1-1 delivery deep into the right-field stands, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead.

And then with Minor seemingly holding a three-run cushion in the fifth inning, he got into another quick mess by walking Ruben Tejada (batting .240 heading into Tuesday) and then giving up a two-run blast to Daniel Murphy — the same Murphy who batted at a .354 clip from June 19-30.

"I just think it was bad pitches tonight. You can’t give up two home runs" to prominent Mets, said Minor, who remains 2-5 for the season. He also lamented his inability to get into the sixth inning.

Thankfully, "those guys (in the bullpen) picked me up," said Minor, who threw strikes on 67 of 101 pitches.

Regarding Minor, here are four notable oddities from 2014:

**From June 4-20, spanning four starts, Minor tallied two outings of double-digit strikeouts and two starts of double-digit hits allowed.

**From a start-to-start standpoint, Minor has incurred a swing of four or more earned runs allowed — positive or negative — four times.

**Minor has yielded multiple homers four times this year — with each occurrence coming at Turner Field.

**On days of Minor starts, the Braves are averaging 7.5 runs for victories … but just 1.16 runs for losses.

The quartet of Shae Simmons (first major-league victory), Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden (three strikeouts) and Craig Kimbrel (26th save) allowed just one measly hit and zero runs over 4 2/3 fantastic innings, prompting Gonzalez to tab them as the "MVPs" of the night.

"That’s pretty awesome for (the bullpen) to do that," marveled Gonzalez.

The group also amassed eight strikeouts from their 77 total pitches (52 strikes), tying up the Mets hitters in knots, while protecting a lead that started at one but mushroomed to three by game’s end.

Shae Simmons (1.43 career ERA in the minors), a virtual clone of a younger Kimbrel, has been stellar in various situations this year, regardless of inning count or the number of inherited runners when taking the mound.

On Tuesday, he cleaned up Minor’s potential mess in the 5th, quickly getting two outs with two runners on base.

"We needed a punchout" to close the inning, said Gonzalez, "and we were hoping to get what we got."

Nearly two full years had elapsed since Kimbrel — easily the National League’s most dominant closer of the decade — registered consecutive saves against the Mets.