CHICAGO -- It wasn't that long ago when the Mets swept the Cubs in the 2015 National League Championship Series. Last year, the Cubs wiped that bad memory away, winning 100-plus games in the regular season and their first World Series since 1908.
This week, the Cubs and Mets squared off again, but clearly the two teams are having different seasons. Chicago posted a 17-5 victory on Wednesday to maintain a 2 1/2-game lead over the Brewers while opening a three-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central. The Mets are looking ahead to next year.
"This game is fickle. You've got to take advantage while you can and while you have the players," said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who picked up the win despite struggling in the first three innings with his command.
Lester pointed out that the Cubs led the NL in several categories last season, including walk-off wins, defense and starting pitching.
"That doesn't happen that often, years like that don't happen that often," Lester said. "I've always been a big supporter of all you have to do is get in. That's all you have to do. It doesn't matter how the season looks, what everybody's stats are. Whether you limp in or sprint in, it doesn't matter. Everybody has a chance. There's been a lot of teams over the years that have proved that."
The Cubs are sprinting. Willson Contreras drove in three runs, Javier Baez smacked a solo home run among four hits and Albert Almora Jr. -- who entered in the seventh inning -- drove in a career-high six runs in Chicago's 16-hit attack. It's the eighth time the Cubs have scored at least 10 runs in their last 41 games.
The two wins in this series against the Mets have helped heal some of the sting from the Brewers' weekend sweep over the Cubs.
"We had to get back on track," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. "The weekend series was tough."
The Mets made Lester work, as the lefty needed 78 pitches to get through the first three innings, but he threw 36 over the final three innings to finish at 114.
Contreras had an adventurous evening. In his second start since coming off the disabled list, he drove in a run with a groundout in the first, threw out a runner at second in the Mets' second, demonstrated bad baserunning in the third, and then delivered a two-run single in the fourth.
Jose Reyes gave the Mets the lead when he opened the game with his 13th home run, but starter Matt Harvey's pitch count also was high, and he was pulled after throwing 86 over 3 1/3 innings. Harvey was charged with five runs, and the Mets now have lost seven of the nine road games the right-hander has started.
"After today, it's just frustrating," Harvey said. "There's not much else to say."
Baez hit his 22nd home run leading off the Chicago seventh, launching a 2-0 pitch from Chasen Bradford into the basket rimming the left-field bleachers. Two batters later, Kevin McGowan took over, but Almora connected against him, hitting a three-run homer. The Cubs have 204 home runs this season, the fourth-highest single-season total in franchise history.
Almora drove in three more runs when he tripled with the bases loaded in a seven-run eighth inning.
"Albert comes off the bench and has himself quite a week, and that was nice to watch," Maddon said. "We just have to be able to maintain that more consistently."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Glovework:Amed Rosario singled to open the Mets' second, then stole second and reached third on Travis Taijeron's single. One out later, Rosario scored on Harvey's sacrifice bunt, his first RBI of the season, to tie the game at 2.
The Cubs ended the threat when Contreras threw out Taijeron at second. According to Statcast™, Contreras had a pop time of 1.87 seconds, his third-fastest of the season to get an out at second. The throw was 85.1 mph.
Clutch hitting: Contreras came through in Chicago's three-run fourth. The Cubs loaded the bases with one out against Harvey, who was lifted for Hansel Robles. Robles then walked Anthony Rizzo to force in the go-ahead run, and Contreras smacked a single to center to drive in two and open a 5-2 lead.
"Go after some guys. … Eleven walks? Not at this level. You can't do that." -- Mets manager Terry Collins, on his team's pitching performance
"Every game means something. I feel like from now until the end of the season, it's a playoff game. We're having a lot of fun." -- Almora
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Reyes' homer was his 469th career extra-base hit with the Mets, matching Darryl Strawberry for the second-most in franchise history. David Wright leads with 658.
• Almora is the first Cubs player to record at least six RBIs after not starting a game since Mandy Brooks drove in six on Aug. 25, 1925, against the Phillies.
LAGARES ALERT PREVENTS RUN
The Cubs missed a chance in the third. With the game tied at 2, Ian Happ was at first and Contreras at second with two outs when Jason Heyward lined a single to center. Mets center fielder Juan Lagares threw to third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to get Happ, who was tagged out before Contreras crossed home plate. Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley signaled no run scored. In order to protect his right hamstring, the Cubs have instructed Contreras to be careful running the bases, and he had slowed up while looking back at the play at third base.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: The Mets will continue to practice prudence down the stretch with right-hander Seth Lugo, who on Thursday will make his fourth start since coming off the disabled list. Lugo has not thrown more than 84 pitches in an outing since returning from a right shoulder impingement, and isn't likely to exceed that mark by much when he starts the Mets' 8:05 p.m. ET series finale against the Cubs at Wrigley. He is still pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Cubs: Right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng, named the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday, will make his Major League debut on Thursday in the series finale. Tseng was a combined 13-4 with a 2.54 ERA in 24 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.