NEW YORK -- When the New York Mets stumbled home Wednesday after losing three straight games to the Washington Nationals, there seemed to be a better chance the Mets would be worried about falling below .500 by the end of a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs than talking about a potential sweep of the presumptive World Series favorites.
Yet the Mets have a chance to break out the brooms Sunday afternoon in the finale of a National League Championship Series rematch at Citi Field. New York posted its third straight win with a 4-3 victory over the Cubs on Saturday night.
The Mets have outscored the Cubs, who have the lowest ERA in the majors at 2.97, by a margin of 18-8. Not bad for a team that scored 17 runs in the six games preceding the Cubs' arrival.
"You've got to believe you can compete," Mets manager Terry Collins said Saturday night. "But then when you go out and do it, it means a lot. The confidence that it sends throughout the clubhouse -- there's no other way to do it except to go out there and beat one of the real, real good teams three times."
The three straight losses to the Mets (43-37) have continued a monthlong skid of sorts for the Cubs (51-29), who have gone 12-14 since June 5. Chicago is 2-11 against teams with a winning record -- the Mets, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals -- during that stretch.
"Every team we're playing is gunning for us," Cubs utilityman Ben Zobrist told reporters Saturday afternoon. "They know we've got the best record in the league. And they're showing up to play against us. They're not showing up like this to play against other teams."
The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep behind left-hander Jon Lester, who will oppose Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard in a matchup of aces and potential All-Star Game starters.
Lester was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month for June on Saturday after a stretch in which he went 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA. Overall this season, Lester has a 2.03 ERA, second best in the NL behind injured Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
"We want to finish it off (Sunday)," Collins said. "Lester's pitching great, but we certainly are right now playing pretty good. So we need to hopefully go out and get some pitches to hit and do some damage with them."
Syndergaard absorbed his most damage of the season in his most recent start last Tuesday, when he gave up five runs in three innings and took the loss as the Mets fell 11-4 to the Washington Nationals. The next day, multiple media outlets reported Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, accounts corroborated by Syndergaard on Thursday.
Lester is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three career regular-season starts against the Mets. He took the loss in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series last Oct. 17, when he gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings in the Cubs' 4-2 loss at Citi Field.
Syndergaard lost his lone regular-season start against the Cubs in his major league debut on May 12, 2015, when he gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings as the Mets fell 6-1. He picked up the win in Game 2 of the NLCS last Oct. 18, when he allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings in the Mets' 4-1 victory.