Mets hope to stay over .500 and even series vs. Cubs

NEW YORK — A pair of streaks, one impressive and the other ignoble, will be at stake Friday night when the New York Mets host the Chicago Cubs in the second game of a four-game series at Citi Field.

The Cubs won the opener Thursday, when Jose Quintana tossed six scoreless innings and Ben Zobrist had three hits, including a two-run homer, in a 5-1 victory.

The Mets Zack Wheeler (2-4, 5.40 ERA) is scheduled to oppose the Cubs’ Tyler Chatwood (3-4, 4.10 ERA) in a battle of right-handers.

Wheeler will be tasked with trying to keep the Mets (27-27) from falling below .500 for the first time this season. New York has lost 26 of its last 42 games to completely erase the margin for error it built during an 11-1 start.

The Mets fell to .500 for the third time this week Thursday when Brandon Nimmo had two of their four hits. They climbed back over the break-even mark on Monday with an 8-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the second game of a doubleheader and again Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over the Braves.

Manager Mickey Callaway said Thursday afternoon he hadn’t thought about the Mets avoiding falling under .500 this season but said New York’s ability to maintain a non-losing record reflects its resiliency.

The Mets are 8-9 in their last 17 games, a stretch in which they’ve squandered a lead in the sixth inning or later four times, while losing Yoenis Cespedes, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares and Noah Syndergaard to the disabled list.

One of those instances was Sunday when Wheeler was in line for the win after allowing four runs over six innings before the Milwaukee Brewers stormed back for an 8-7 victory.

“Given what we’ve been through recently, to be 8-8 (before Thursday) says something about our players,” Callaway said. “And we actually put ourselves in position to be much better than that in the last 16 games. We’ve been several outs away from winning three or four (more) games.”

The Cubs would love to get more than the several outs Chatwood has been able to produce in his last two starts, both of which only lasted 2 2/3 innings. Chatwood has allowed seven runs on 10 hits and 11 walks while striking out four in those starts.

Chicago won his most recent outing Sunday, when he gave up three runs before four relievers blanked the San Francisco Giants the rest of the way in an 8-3 victory.

The control and length issues are nothing new for Chatwood who has issued 45 walks in 48 1/3 innings this season while pitching at least six innings only three times in 10 starts. The longest of his five starts in May came May 16, when he lasted 5 1/3 innings against the Braves.

Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday night that Chatwood has been working with pitching coach Jim Hickey and that he expects to see a much-improved pitcher against the Mets.

“I’m a big Chatwood fan, I think once he gets it in gear, he’s going to take off, because his stuff is that good,” Maddon said. “He’s capable of striking good hitters out. It’s there, man I’m eager to watch it. I’m really looking forward to watching him pitch (Friday) night.”

Wheeler is 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA in three career starts against the Cubs. Chatwood is 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA in seven starts against the Mets.