NEW YORK -- A weekend full of innings-limit controversy and Subway Series disappointment now squarely in their past, the Mets resumed pursuit of a National League East title Monday with a 4-0 victory over the Braves at Citi Field. The win widened their division lead to 6 1/2 games over the Nationals, who were rained out in Washington, dropping New York's magic number to seven.
"We needed this one bad," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Michael Conforto homered off Braves starter Shelby Miller, who set an Atlanta Braves record by extending his winless streak to 23 starts, and Daniel Murphy doubled home two runs against the bullpen to help the Mets pull away late. Miller is 0-15 with a 3.65 ERA during the streak.
Jon Niese has endured his own share of rocky starts since the All-Star break, but gave the Mets six strong innings Monday. Manager Terry Collins removed Niese after that, locking down the final three innings with Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia.
"I go back to some of the really good teams I've seen and they make games six innings long," Collins said, "because of the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning guys that get it done on a consistent nightly basis. When you're a starting pitcher and you know you have to get through six, it completely changes the way you pitch."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Left field is his best field: Less than an hour after accepting his award as the Mets' Minor League Player of the Year, Conforto continued his assault on Major League pitching. The rookie's second-inning homer off Miller was his eighth, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead. Four of the left-handed-hitting Conforto's past five homers have gone to the opposite field.
"It's something that I've worked on a lot," Conforto said. "In college, I wanted to be able to hit the ball hard everywhere on the field. I worked on it in batting practice, worked on it in games just to make myself more of a complete hitter."
Miller's winless streak: This outing was similar to many of the others Miller has endured during the streak. Monday marked the 13th time during this 23-start span that he has allowed two earned runs or fewer. It also marked the 12th time during this span that he was given zero runs of support. The right-hander limited his first-inning damage to one run after allowing each of the first three batters he faced to reach safely. He also pitched around two walks in the second following Conforto's solo shot. But this 113-pitch effort was not enough for him to record his first win since May 17.
"I know we haven't had the season we wanted," Miller said. "But at the end of the season, we're just grinding it out and trying to finish the season strong." More >
Six and out: Niese was a ground-ball machine early, inducing infield bouncers from each of the first eight batters. From that point forward, Niese skirted around various pockets of trouble, delivering his first scoreless effort since July 19. But Collins removed him anyway after six innings and 88 pitches.
Squandered opportunities: Niese retired each of the first eight batters he faced via groundouts and then issued a four-pitch walk to Miller. The Braves then loaded the bases before Freddie Freeman ended the third with a flyout to center field. Atlanta put two on with none out in the fourth before Nick Swisher quieted that threat with the Braves' NL-high 134th grounded-into double play.
"We're getting the opportunities, we're just not taking advantage of them," Swisher said. "We're just not driving in those runs when we need them."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Braves have played 114 games since Miller was last credited with a win. Seventeen Atlanta pitchers have notched at least one win during this span.
BRAVES' WINKLER MAKES MLB DEBUT
In his return to the mound following Tommy John surgery, Braves righty Daniel Winkler debuted in the eighth, striking out Conforto, the first batter he faced. The whiff came after Winkler's first pitch struck home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth square on the right knee. More >
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Further testing on Mets infielder Juan Uribe's chest came back negative Monday, but he remained day to day with a bruise that he suffered diving after a ball in Sunday's game. Collins hopes that Uribe might be available by Tuesday.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves:Matt Wisler will take the mound in the middle game of the series Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Wisler limited the Mets to one earned run over eight innings in his Major League debut June 19. After struggling throughout most of August and early September, he righted himself with six more solid innings against the Mets on Sept. 11.
Mets: Super sub Logan Verrett will take another turn, this time in place of Jacob deGrom. He will start Tuesday after giving the Mets a pair of solid performances in place of Matt Harvey over the past few weeks.