MLB

Mets-Cubs Preview

Strong pitching and just enough offense has put the Chicago Cubs in position to sweep their four-game series from the New York Mets.

The Cubs can do so by recording a seventh consecutive home victory over the NL East leaders Thursday.

Chicago (18-15) hasn't been potent while totaling 12 runs and recording two one-run victories in the first three of this set, but it's posted a 1.67 ERA and received 22 innings from starters Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel. That trio's held the offensively challenged Mets (20-14) to five runs and collectively outpitched Jacob deGrom, rookie Noah Syndergaard and ace Matt Harvey, who combined for a 3.63 ERA in the set.

A Chicago bullpen that posted an 8.72 ERA during last week's 2-5 road trip, has recorded five scoreless innings in the three games.

The Mets are batting .191 in this series, going 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position.

''We're gonna put up runs,'' Harvey said after Wednesday's 2-1 loss. ''We're in a little bit of a rut right now, but, obviously, everybody goes through that. (Thursday's) the first day to come out of it.''

Hammel and two relievers kept things close for the Cubs, who managed three hits over seven innings against Harvey on Wednesday before Dexter Fowler delivered a tying single off Carlos Torres in the eighth and closer Jeurys Familia walked home the winner in the ninth.

''When you're able to win games late on a consistent basis, it becomes part of the fabric,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Looking for a sixth straight overall victory against the Mets and first four-game home sweep of them since Aug. 6-9, 1992, Chicago must clear one more difficult hurdle in Jonathon Niese (3-2, 1.95 ERA).

After landing on the disabled list three times in the past two seasons, the left-hander has looked very strong while allowing more than one earned run once in six starts.

"This is the best I've felt in years," he told MLB's official website. "It's good knowing that I can get deep in games. That has a lot to do with my offseason workouts and my arm feels great and hopefully I can keep it going."

He yielded two unearned runs in seven innings of a 3-2 win at Philadelphia on Saturday.

Niese, though, is 3-4 with a 5.16 ERA in eight starts against the Cubs.

Anthony Rizzo is 1 for 11 against him, but is batting .346 while hitting safely in 13 of the last 14 contests.

While Chicago's offense faces another challenge, Travis Wood (2-2, 4.96) looks to get back on track and continue his early home success. The left-hander went 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA in four April starts but has allowed 12 total runs over nine innings to go 0-1 in two May outings.

The long ball continues to plague Wood, who has given up six homers in his last four starts. Two of them came over four innings in a 12-4 loss at Milwaukee on Saturday.

The good news for Wood is that he returns to Wrigley Field, where he's 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA compared to 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in four road starts. He's 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts against the Mets at Wrigley.

Center fielder Juan Lagares is 3 for 5 with a double and a home runs versus Wood, but he could miss a third straight contest with a slight strain on his upper right side.

''We've got to make sure this thing goes away,'' manager Terry Collins said. "If this thing continues to get worse, it's going to lead to a longer period of time."

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