ST. LOUIS — For Jordan Schafer and the Atlanta Braves, motivation for Sunday’s series finale at sold-out Busch Stadium was easy to find.
“You never want to get swept,” Schafer said.
And they didn’t. With Schafer sparking the offense early and Mike Minor turning in another winning start, Atlanta avoided a four-game sweep at St. Louis’ hands with a 5-2 decision.
Fielding a lineup missing catcher Brian McCann (rest) and third baseman Chris Johnson (turf toe), the Braves (78-52) jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the top of the second inning was over and leaned on Minor (13-5) from there.
Their ace left-hander delivered, scattering six hits, walking one and fanning two as he shut down the Cardinals (76-54) for the second time in a month.
“I really wasn’t thinking about getting swept,” Minor said. “All I thought about was going out there and doing the best I could to win a game with the stuff I had.”
Schafer made sure Minor had some immediate breathing room. After failing to reach base in his 13 prior plate appearances this series, the team’s newly minted leadoff man opened this one by tripling into the right field corner. Two pitches later, Elliot Johnson singled Schafer home for a 1-0 lead.
In the second, Schafer lined a ground-rule double into the left-field corner, plating Joey Terdoslavich for the second run of the inning and a three-run advantage.
“I’m starting to get my timing back,” said Schafer, who returned Aug. 9 from a right ankle contusion after being sidelined for five weeks. “I’m not quite to where I was before the injury, but I feel like I’m getting there.”
With Minor working efficiently, the lead was never in any serious danger. After allowing a spate of hard-hit balls over the first three innings, Minor got into a rhythm and only allowed two men into scoring position during his stint.
St. Louis’ only run off him came in the sixth when Matt Holliday’s grounder to first plated Matt Carpenter, who doubled to start the inning and advanced to third on Carlos Beltran’s flyout to left.
“He’s becoming one of those guys who can stop a losing streak and start a winning streak, kind of like (Clayton) Kershaw or (Adam) Wainwright,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Minor.
The Braves tacked on runs in the seventh and eighth on Andrelton Simmons’ 12th homer of the year to left and Gerald Laird’s sacrifice fly to right field, respectively.
When the Cardinals answered with Allen Craig’s RBI single in their half of the eighth, creating a save situation, Gonzalez waved closer Craig Kimbrel in for his first four-out stint of 2013. Kimbrel needed just 11 pitches to finish things off.
“I hope to be doing that a lot more if he needs me,” Kimbrel said of picking up the extra out.
Lance Lynn (13-8) failed in his fourth try at his 14th win, yielding nine hits and four runs in seven innings, and hasn’t won since Aug. 4. But the weekend was still a success for St. Louis, which was swept July 26-28 in Atlanta.
“We wanted to get the win today,” said Craig, who went 3-for-4 with his 91st RBI of the year, “but it was still a good series for us. Minor just did a good job today. He was able to get inside on the right-handed hitters.”
The Cardinals fell a half-game behind Pittsburgh in the National League Central, pending the outcome of the Pirates’ game in San Francisco.
NOTES: Johnson was injured when he tripped over first base after legging out an infield hit in the fourth inning Saturday night. He’s second in the National League in batting average at .331, trailing only St. Louis C Yadier Molina. ... Saturday night’s victory gave the Cardinals their fourth straight series win, their most in a row since notching six straight back in May. They won or split 14 consecutive series in a span dating from April 29 to June 13. ... St. Louis starts a stretch of 13 straight games Monday night against its Central rivals, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, when the Reds come to town to start a three-game series. The Braves have today off before opening a nine-game homestand Tuesday night against Cleveland.