Lefty Mike Minor can keep the Atlanta Braves in their seemingly comfortable playoff perch tonight when they host the visiting San Diego Padres in the first of four games at Turner Field.

The Braves enter the series atop the race for the National League's two wild card berths, leading second-place Pittsburgh by two games and holding a 4 1/2- game edge over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Atlanta is second in the NL's East Division, where it trails the front-running Washington Nationals by 4 1/2 games.

Minor, a 24-year-old native Tennessee and product of Vanderbilt University, is making his 45th start in a big-league career that began when he debuted in 2010.

The seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft was 3-2 in a brief stint with that Braves that season, then went 5-3 in 15 starts last year before assuming a regular rotation role this season.

He won three of four decisions between June 30 and July 23 to get to 6-7 on the season, then dropped to 6-8 with a 3-0 loss at Philadelphia on Aug. 7 that saw him allow three runs on seven hits in seven innings.

He's faced San Diego once and was on the losing side of a start after allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings.

Another southpaw, journeyman Eric Stults, makes his sixth start in a Padres uniform after beginning the season with the Chicago White Sox.

Now 32 years old, Stults was a draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002 and remained with the Dodgers through 2009, when he was 4-3 with a 4.86 earned run average in 10 starts.

He pitched in Japan in 2010 before returning for six relief appearances with the Colorado Rockies last season and two games with the White Sox this spring before he was plucked off waivers by the Padres in May.

The Indiana native pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 defeat of the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 6, walking one batter and striking out three.

He's 0-2 in five career meetings with the Braves.

On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Clint Barmes smacked a grand slam to key a nine-run fourth inning and the Pirates avoided a three-game sweep with an 11-5 win over the Padres.

Chris Denorfia homered and Logan Forsythe had two hits and scored twice for the Padres, who lost at PNC Park for the first time since Sept. 18, 2009.

San Diego had won its last 11 games in Pittsburgh entering Sunday.

Ross Ohlendorf (4-3) was saddled with the loss after giving up seven runs - six earned - on five hits and three walks over three-plus frames.

In New York, Jonathon Niese stifled Atlanta over eight strong innings as the Mets salvaged the finale of a three-game set with a 6-5 victory at Citi Field.

Ben Sheets (4-2) was charged for five runs - four earned - on eight hits over six innings to absorb the loss, while Freddie Freeman clubbed a solo home run and Martin Prado added a two-run double in the ninth, as the Braves wrapped up a six-game road trip at 4-2.

"I love this team because we battle all the way to the end," Prado said. "We came up short, but we tried. We played hard."

This is the first series between the teams in 2012. San Diego won five of nine games against Atlanta in 2011, while the Braves were 4-2 series winners in 2010.