On a day when Anibal Sanchez didn’t have his best command, he found a way to help the Atlanta Braves on their march toward the postseason.
Sanchez kept the Braves close with six strong innings, pinch-hitter Tyler Flowers drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth, and the Braves moved closer to clinching the NL East with a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.
The Giants lost their 11th straight, the worst skid since the team moved to San Francisco and the longest for the franchise since 1951.
The Braves reduced their magic number for winning the division to 11 with their fifth straight win, matching their best streak of the season, and clinched their first winning record since their last division crown in 2013. Going into Wednesday, Atlanta led second-place Philadelphia by 6½ games.
“We’ve worked hard to get to this point,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve grinded through things to get to that position. We can look to bigger things now.”
Sanchez remains winless in his last seven starts. He gave up one run on six hits and five walks. He induced double-play grounders to escape bases-loaded, one-out situations in the first and the fourth.
“I didn’t have the same command I’ve had before,” Sanchez said. “The defense has helped me so much and they got me out of that inning.”
The Giants scored just three runs in the series. They were swept by the Braves in a series of three games or more for the first time since 2011.
“It’s never fun, obviously. Everybody comes out here and puts in the work, grinding daily, trying to do everything we can to win ballgames,” Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said. “These games do matter to us.”
Flowers beat out an infield hit that scored Charlie Culberson from third base with two outs in the ninth to put the Giants ahead. A replay review confirmed first base umpire Jeremie Rehak’s ruling that Belt’s foot was off the bag when Flowers reached first.
“I just don’t get that call was not overturned based on the brief look I had at it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It shows you how much the call on the field plays.”
Culberson singled leading off the inning against Will Smith (2-3). He advanced to second on Ender Inciarte’s sacrifice bunt and took third on Dansby Swanson’s grounder.
Dan Winkler (3-0) pitched a scoreless eighth, and Jonny Venters worked a scoreless ninth for his second save.
Derek Holland matched Sanchez, giving up one run in six innings of five-hit ball. He struck out seven and walked one. Over his last six starts, Holland is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Evan Longoria put the Giants ahead with an RBI single in the third. The Braves drew even in the sixth on Freddie Freeman’s run-scoring single.
Sanchez stayed in the game after Gregor Blanco stepped on his heel when Sanchez was covering first for the first out in the sixth.
“It scared me as soon as it happened, the pain … but I wanted to finish the inning,” Sanchez said.
Asked about his team’s potential role as a spoiler, a term he’s bristled at in the past, Bochy said, “I probably prefer ‘disrupters.'”
The Giants, who are four years removed from winning their third World Series title in a five-year span, play nine of their 15 remaining games against contending teams.
“It’s not a great position to be in, but it is a motivating thing for the players this time of year when they’re not in it,” Bochy said.
Braves: Culberson was in Wednesday’s starting lineup at third base in place of Johan Camargo, who left Tuesday’s game with left groin tightness.
Giants: Belt was back in the lineup a day after being held out with a sore right knee, an injury that may require offseason surgery.
Braves: RHP Kevin Gausman (9-10, 3.89 ERA) will pitch Friday at home against Washington. Gausman is 3-1 with a 4.34 ERA in five career starts against the Nationals.
Giants: RHP Chris Stratton (9-9, 4.99) will pitch Friday’s series opener at AT&T Park against the Colorado Rockies. The team’s winningest pitcher is 1-2 with a 2.84 ERA in four starts since his most recent callup from Triple-A Sacramento on Aug. 21.
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