NEW YORK -- Jon Lester should've been the perfect pitcher to start on Sunday for the Cubs. He had gotten the team back on track after a loss three times and was coming off a stellar June, when he won National League Pitcher of the Month honors. But Lester turned into a different pitcher as the calendar turned.
"It wasn't one of Jon's better days," manager Joe Maddon said of Lester, who was knocked out after 1 1/3 innings in Chicago's 14-3 loss to New York. "From my perspective, it appeared that the ball was up a little bit. They were not missing his pitches, they were on him and hitting the ball very well."
It was the shortest outing of Lester's career, and the Mets completed a four-game sweep over the Cubs, just as they did last October in the NL Championship Series. This was the Mets' first game against Lester since they beat him in Game 1 of the NLCS.
"I think guys have turned the page on last year," Lester said. "I don't think last year's playoffs were on anybody's mind coming into the series. Move on."
In six June starts, Lester was charged with seven earned runs over 44 2/3 innings, and on Sunday, he gave up eight runs on nine hits, including three home runs. The Tigers were the last team to hit three homers off him, doing so last Aug. 19.
"There were a lot of balls that missed up," Lester said. "I didn't really ever make an adjustment getting the ball back down in the zone, and they made me pay. Usually you can get some missed hits, usually you can get some flyouts. They're swinging the bats really well right now.
"I feel they didn't miss a mistake the whole series," he said of the Mets, who outscored the Cubs 32-11 in the four games. "Sometimes you run into a buzz saw like that. By no means is that an excuse for today, I have to do a better job getting some outs one way or another."
Lester's outing continued a bad trend for the Cubs' starters, who came into this series ranked first in the NL with a 2.74 ERA. Against the Mets, Chicago's starting pitchers were charged with 24 earned runs over 16 innings.
No one in the Cubs' clubhouse was in panic mode. They were just eager to get home after an 11-game road trip that began in Miami and also stopped in Cincinnati.
"I'm sure everybody in this clubhouse will be honest [and say] we weren't going to be on the pace we were on [early] for the entire season," Lester said.
Maddon wasn't worried about his starters. The offense has been perplexing.
"[The offensive struggles] also have been exacerbated by their pitching staff," Maddon said of the Mets. "They are good and they have some power stuff, and that's why their record [44-37] is as good as it is. Their pitching has done well against our hitting. The same thing happened last year in the playoffs. We have to get better at that particular area to beat this team."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.