The Chicago Cubs’ hot start fades further and further into memory as their cold spell continues.
The New York Mets are back to the winning ways they exhibited for much of April.
Looking to rebound from a difficult road trip, the Cubs will turn to Jon Lester on Monday night to outduel New York’s Jacob deGrom at Wrigley Field.
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The Cubs (15-15) lost to Milwaukee 3-2 in 11 innings on Sunday to cap a 2-5 trip. Chicago, which was 13-8 on May 1, is on the verge of falling below .500 for the first time since it was 1-2 on April 10.
Lester (2-2, 4.04 ERA) has been responsible for two of the team’s three victories in the last 11 games and seems to have shaken off a rough opening and has settled in as the ace Chicago envisioned when it signed him this offseason. The left-hander allowed three hits over seven innings of a 1-0 win over the Brewers on May 1, then gave up seven hits and four runs – one earned – in seven innings to beat St. Louis 6-5 on Wednesday.
"That’s why you want a guy like him on your staff," manager Joe Maddon told MLB’s official website. "Typically, his stuff kept getting better as the game progressed, we’ve seen that a lot. … He made good pitches when he had to. He keeps making positive strides, and that’s good for us."
After a career-worst 6.23 ERA in April, Lester is enjoying a career-best 0.64 ERA in May. He made his only career start against the Mets in June 2006.
With the exception of a six-run outing on April 24, deGrom (3-3, 2.95) has yielded six earned runs in 31 2-3 innings this season.
Since the start of last season, deGrom and Lester each average 8.95 strikeouts per nine innings to rank among the top 20 in baseball. The right-hander notched a season-high nine strikeouts Wednesday while allowing one run in seven innings of a 5-1 win over Baltimore.
"He’s started to change speeds a little bit better," manager Terry Collins said. "If you go back and think about what he did last year, he’s a guy that really uses all of his pitches. His changeup got so good towards the end of last summer, it became a huge pitch for him. We want him to re-establish that."
DeGrom’s toughest test will be Anthony Rizzo. The All-Star first baseman recorded his 14th extra-base hit of the season Sunday, and leads the team with a 1.026 OPS – more than 200 points higher than Lucas Duda (.786), New York’s team-leader among qualifying players.
Duda went 2 for 5 with a double in Sunday’s 7-4 win at Philadelphia after going 1 for 18 in his previous five games.
New York (20-11) has won four of five following a 1-5 stretch. The Mets’ bullpen has surrendered one run over its past 18 1-3 innings – a home run to Baltimore’s Chris Davis on Tuesday – while Chicago’s relievers have allowed 13 runs in 11 innings over the last three games.
DeGrom allowed four runs in five innings in a 7-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 5, in his only start against them.