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Mets host Cubs, look to increase division lead

The New York Mets’ fortunes on Sunday night looked a lot better than they did Friday night.

Such is life in the midst of the most heated pennant race in baseball.

The Mets will look to increase their lead in the National League East on Monday night when they host the Chicago Cubs in the opener of a three-game series.

Chris Bassitt (13-7, 3.24 ERA) is slated to take the mound for the Mets against Javier Assad (0-1, 2.93) in a battle of right-handers.

The Mets earned their second straight victory and completed a winning road trip Sunday afternoon when Brandon Nimmo and Tomas Nido each homered and finished with three RBIs in a 9-3 win over the Miami Marlins. The Cubs fell to the visiting San Francisco Giants 4-2 in the rubber game of a three-game series.

The day got even better for the Mets while they were en route to the Big Apple. The Atlanta Braves, who trailed New York by 10 1/2 games on May 31 but moved into first place for the first time this season Friday night, suffered their second straight loss after scoring five runs in the top of the ninth inning before falling to the Seattle Mariners 8-7 on homers in the bottom of the frame by Julio Rodriguez and Eugenio Suarez.

With Sunday’s results, the Mets (89-52) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Braves (87-53) in the race for the NL East title and the likely second bye in the NL playoffs.

After a 6-3 loss Friday, the Mets outscored the Marlins 20-6 in the final two games of the series to finish 4-2 on a trip that began with a loss Tuesday night to another non-contender, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Following Sunday’s win, manager Buck Showalter seemed to acknowledge the reaction to the two losses by Mets fans, some of whom are conditioned to expect the worst for a team that reached the playoffs just twice in the previous 15 seasons.

“We won two series on the road in September,” Showalter said. “Are we supposed to feel bad? You have to stay in reality. That is why you don’t take heed of the noise and keep grinding. Our guys feel like they are not going away.”

Hopes of contending faded long ago for the Cubs (58-82), who clinched a second straight sub-.500 season with Sunday’s loss. But evaluations for 2023 and beyond began long ago for young players such as Assad, who will make his fourth big league start — and first appearance against the Mets — on Monday.

Assad, who tossed nine scoreless innings over his first two starts, took the loss Wednesday after giving up four runs over 5 1/3 innings as the Cubs fell to the Cincinnati Reds 7-1.

“I’ve felt really good at this level and with my teammates,” Assad told reporters via an interpreter. “Just seeing all the experienced players that are here, players that have their own routine. I’ve been able to look at them, see what they do.”

Bassitt won his sixth straight decision on Wednesday when he allowed one run over seven innings as the Mets beat the Pirates 5-1 in the opener of a doubleheader.

In his lone start against the Cubs on Aug. 5, 2019, Bassitt didn’t factor into the decision after allowing two runs over six innings in the Oakland Athletics’ 6-5 loss.

–Field Level Media