The Chicago Cubs are relieved to escape New York after a humiliating four-game sweep by the Mets.
"It was terrible, it was bad," said Cubs catcher Miguel Montero following Sunday's 14-3 loss at Citi Field. "They outplayed us. Simple as that. We didn't play good enough. We didn't hit good enough. We didn't pitch good enough. I mean, overall, we were sloppy."
Chicago has not been swept in a four-game series in New York since June 17-20, 1985 at Shea Stadium.
But the Cubs (51-30) now return to friendlier turf for the Fourth of July. They're 25-11 this season at Wrigley Field and face an opponent they've recently beaten up on with Monday's opener of a three-game Wrigley Field series against the Cincinnati Reds (30-53). A Thursday makeup against Atlanta follows.
The Cubs swept three games at Great American Ballpark before running into a Mets buzz saw last weekend.
It's been arguably the season's roughest stretch for a team that sprinted to one of the best starts in franchise history and had the major league's best record most of the way.
But the four-game series that concluded on Sunday featured two one-run games and two Mets blowouts, including rough outings by ace pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, named National League pitcher of the month for June just two days earlier.
Lester, who was rocked for eight runs on nine hits in 1 1/3 innings of work on Sunday, insists there's no cause for panic.
"We weren't going to be on that pace that we were on for the entire season," he said. "That's 162 games. It's a long year, six months. There's a lot of things that can happen. And you guys are seeing it now. We're a little banged up, two big key components of our bullpen are not here right now. Dex (Dexter Fowler), which makes the offense go it seems like a lot, is still rehabbing."
Chicago still leads the National League Central by a comfortable eight games over second-place St. Louis and 10 1/2 games in front of third-place Pittsburgh.
The Cubs are 22 games in front of last-place Cincinnati, which has dropped eight of its last 10 including Sunday's 12-1 loss to Washington. That game featured 6 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball from Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
"It's tough. It's not fun, at all," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce told reporters on Sunday. "I don't think anyone here is having much fun. We just have to get better. It is a grind."
The Reds send left-hander Cody Reed (0-2, 9.00 ERA) against Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 2.76).
Reed makes his fourth career appearance and second against the Cubs. He took the loss in a 9-2 decision on June 29. On June 18 he became Cincinnati's 26th pitcher and 12th starter this season.
Hendricks is 2-1 with a 4.04 ERA in six all-time starts against the Reds.