Joe Maddon brought in a magician to snap the Cubs out of a funk. He can only hope Jon Lester fell under his spell.
After some excellent pitching helped the Cubs end their longest slide of the season, Maddon is looking for that to rub off on Lester as the left-hander tries for his first win in more than six weeks Wednesday night against the New York Mets.
With Chicago (40-35) mired in a five-game losing streak, Maddon hired a magician to entertain the team in another of his tension-reducing stunts that made him popular with Tampa Bay.
It seemed to do the trick, as the Cubs got an RBI double from Matt Szczur to edge the Mets 1-0 in Tuesday's opener. They've won seven straight over New York (40-38), one shy of their record in the all-time series most recently done from 2003-04.
"I just felt more comfortable and, I'm sure the guys felt the same, because he kind of tones it down a little bit, lets you relax," Szczur said about Maddon. "It was a fun time."
Lester (4-6, 4.03 ERA) isn't having much fun as he struggles to live up to the six-year, $155 million free-agent contract he signed over the winter. The three-time All-Star owns the most losses on the team and his ERA is his highest in three years.
Lester is 0-4 with a 4.43 ERA in seven starts since beating Pittsburgh on May 16. However, he's only been backed by seven runs over that stretch, getting one or none in five.
"I feel good going into starts," Lester said. "It's not like I'm searching for things."
He was searching for his command in Thursday's 4-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He surrendered four runs with five strikeouts and four walks in four innings in his shortest outing as a Cub.
"It just comes down to the things I keep preaching and harping on, is fastball location and executing pitches," Lester said. "That's what it comes down to, and I'm not doing it consistently enough right now to help this team."
He gave up three runs and two homers while issuing four walks in six innings of a 4-3 win over New York on May 11.
Lester could be in for some better results Wednesday. The Mets are hitting .176 while averaging 1.8 runs during a 4-8 stretch. They mustered just three hits in the series opener as their four-game winning streak came to an end.
New York has a .192 average with 10 runs in five meetings with the Cubs this season, with Michael Cuddyer going 2 for 17. He's 2 for 28 over his last nine games overall.
The Mets are turning to their own struggling veteran in Bartolo Colon (9-6, 4.89), who is 3-5 with a 6.50 ERA over his last eight starts to nearly double his ERA from his first seven.
The right-hander has lost his last two, surrendering 11 runs and 19 hits in 10 1-3 innings. Both of those outings came on the road, though, and he's won six of eight home starts and three in a row behind a 3.79 ERA.
Colon is 0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in five career starts against Chicago, one of two teams (Arizona) that he's failed to defeat in his 18-year career.
Cubs rookie Kris Bryant is 7 for 16 with two homers, five walks and four RBIs against the Mets.