CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs realize if they are going to maintain their cushion in the National League Central that winning on a consistent basis will go a long way.
And as the Cubs prepare to welcome the New York Mets to Wrigley Field for a three-game series starting Monday, they may have found the kind of rhythm they have been looking for all season -- and precisely at the right time.
The Cubs are riding a five-game winning streak after sweeping the Cincinnati Reds with a 9-0 victory on Sunday. Daniel Murphy continues to pace the offense from the leadoff spot and David Bote added another home run to keep the Cubs rolling.
The Cubs finished the four-game series by scoring 29 runs. They have scored at least seven runs in four of their past five games.
But if the Cubs hope to continue to keep their streak intact, Monday starter and ace Jon Lester will have to deal with a Mets team that has found its stride as well.
The Mets couldn't finish off a sweep of the Washington Nationals in a 15-0 loss on Sunday, but New York has been finding success of late just the same.
The Mets will enter the series having won four of their past six games and hope to bounce back from Sunday's lopsided loss.
Lester (14-5, 3.64 ERA) takes the mound on a bit of a roll after winning his last two starts. He hit a speed bump three starts ago when he was shelled for nine runs (eight earned) in 3 2/3 innings against the Nationals on Aug. 11, but since then has given up just one earned run in 11 2/3 innings in his past two outings and has found the groove he had settled into earlier this season.
Now, Lester will look to continue moving in the right direction against the Mets, against whom he is 6-1 with a 3.26 ERA in eight career starts.
"As a competitor, I don't have to like his decision," Lester told reporters, according to the Cubs' official website. "It doesn't mean I don't respect our manager and what he's trying to do. He's trying to win a baseball game and he feels if that's the time to make the move, that's the time to make the move."
Still, Lester likes the way he's pitching of late.
"The biggest thing is getting my fastball to the angle that it should be so you're seeing the missed hits and foul balls and swings and misses on it," Lester said. "I'll keep working on that."
Lester will face Noah Syndergaard (9-3, 3.38), who has won three of his past four outings. Syndergaard surrendered two runs while scattering five hits and striking out six in six innings of his last start against the San Francisco Giants. He is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA in three career starts against the Cubs.
Syndergaard has seemingly found his rhythm after missing nearly two months with a finger injury.
"Obviously, he's had a bit of a strange year in terms of injuries and sicknesses," Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters earlier this month, according to mlb.com. "He's going to be an elite pitcher if he can get his routine underway."