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The Target: Cubs vs. Mets

Jon Lester tries to figure out what went wrong after allowing eight runs in less than two innings against the Mets on July 3. | Seth Wenig/AP

The Mets (49-42) played below-.500 ball in both May and June. Then they saved their season.

Cubs fans will remember too well the four-game Mets sweep at Citi Field to open July. It was tense, playoff-like — without nearly the same stakes that last season’s Mets sweep in the NLCS had, but still. It was a gut-punch to a Cubs team that reeled into the All-Star break. Meanwhile, it re-established the Mets as World Series contenders.

Both teams are coming off series victories to open the second half — the Cubs (55-36) took two of three from visiting Texas while the Mets won two of three in Philadelphia — yet there’s little question which team is playing better baseball right now.

It’s not the Cubs, if you weren’t sure.

THE MATCHUPS

Monday: Steven Matz (7-5, 3.38) vs. Jon Lester (9-4, 3.01), 6:05 p.m., Ch. 50.

Tuesday: Noah Syndergaard (9-4, 2.56) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.68), 6:05 p.m., CSN.

Wednesday: Bartolo Colon (8-4, 3.11) vs. Kyle Hendricks (8-6, 2.41), 1:20 p.m., Ch. 7.

The Cubs got to Matz for three runs on seven hits in five-plus innings of a 4-3 defeat in New York. The young lefty has been a hard-luck loser twice since, throwing seven innings back-to-back. This is a pitcher with a ton of ability.

Lester was mauled in the finale of that series, giving up eight earned runs without getting through the second inning. No biggie, merely the worst start of his career. Syndegaard threw a gem in that game, cruising through seven innings of one-run ball.

Arrieta lost in New York, too, being outdueled by the rubber-armed Colon. Opposing Syndegaard will be another huge test for Arrieta, who has, as everyone knows, struggled of late.

THE OPPONENT

The Mets have had a heck of a hard time scoring runs on the road, yet they have a winning record (23-22) due to their MLB-best 3.38 ERA in away contests.

Led by Yoenis Cespedes (21), Neil Walker (16) and Curtis Granderson (16), the Mets are one off the N.L. lead in home runs, with 126. (The Cubs are fourth, with 120.) And the Mets are an eye-opening 44-18 when they homer at least once.

We probably don’t have to mention that the Cubs want no part of Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who has zero blown saves. It only feels like he has shut down the Cubs in the ninth a million times.

ON/OFF TARGET

On: Anthony Rizzo has a red-hot .367 average over his last 41 games, with 27 extra-base hits — tied for the most in that span with Arizona’s Jake Lamb.

Off: No big-league pitcher was better in June than Lester, when he was 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA. His July ERA is just a skosh higher — 27.00. Something tells us he’ll manage to bring it down some.

On: Javy Baez is hitting .346 in his last 15 games. He seems to be harnessing, at least somewhat, his swing-for-the-fences mentality. Still an aggressive hitter, Baez has become a much tougher out.

Off: Did we mention the Cubs have lost eight straight contests against the Mets, including that little thing known as the 2015 NLCS?

On: Reliever Travis Wood has stranded 23 of 24 inherited runners this season, a 95.8 percent success rate that leads the majors.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com