The Cubs have won four of their past six games, inching closer to the .500 mark despite a 3-2 loss in Friday's series opener against the Mets.
Chicago enters Saturday afternoon's contest at Wrigley Field with a 17-24 record. On the same date last year, the club was 15-23 and in the early stages of a 12-game losing streak. Manager Dale Sveum no doubt hopes this year's Cubs are headed in a different direction, but he's not looking too far ahead.
"Well, it's more of just, 'Let's worry about a series and a game at a time,' and winning the first game of a series, and you go from there," Sveum said before Friday's loss. "I think when you set your sights on something other than that day or that series, you're barking up the wrong tree.
"It's such a long season, and every game is important and every game is nine innings, so you have to win all nine innings. Obviously, we've been witness to winning a lot of eight innings and not winning the ninth inning, or even seven innings, so that's what we've got to do -- go out and concentrate on the game we're playing that day and winning that ballgame."
The Cubs, who will send Scott Feldman to the mound against Jeremy Hefner on Saturday, have had trouble late in games. They entered Friday ranked 29th in the Majors with a 4.58 ERA in the seventh inning or beyond.
But Sveum believes that will improve. The team recently got Kyuji Fujikawa back from the disabled list and made the newly signed Kevin Gregg their closer in place of Carlos Marmol. Now Chicago just needs the struggling Shawn Camp to rediscover his 2012 form.
"So far [Fujikawa has] shown the life on his fastball, so that's good," Sveum said. "Marmol's obviously pitched well in the role he's been doing, and Gregg has done everything we've asked him to do. He's been, knock on wood, perfect in save situations. [Left-hander James] Russell's obviously done a good job. We've got to get Camp going. Long guys, [Michael] Bowden, eat the innings up. Right now it's lined up as good as it has been all season, no doubt about it."
For the Mets, who improved to 16-23 with Friday's win, the problem has been offense. New York has scored three runs or fewer in 14 of its past 20 games, going 6-14 over that stretch.
Those struggles can be attributed partly to slumps from the team's two left-handed power hitters, Lucas Duda and Ike Davis. Duda is hitting .130 in May and .212 overall, while Davis is at .152 for the month and .160 overall after snapping an 0-for-24 spell on Friday.
It's the second year in a row Davis has found himself working through a brutal early-season slump.
"We've got to get him started," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "As I talked him to last week when I decided to put him back in the four-spot, I didn't know if all the bouncing around in the batting order was affecting him. He hits fifth or he hits seventh, and I put him back at fourth and said, 'Look, you came out of Spring Training as the fourth hitter with a good spring. Go back there and feel comfortable.' But certainly we've got to get him started, and we're trying everything we possibly know."
After the Mets' game in St. Louis on Thursday, Davis went to the batting cage and took extra swings before showering and getting on the bus to the airport.
"It's not because he's not working," Collins said of the slump. "If he was just taking it and saying, 'It's going to come,' I would have some issues. But yesterday proved he's doing the best he can to get ready and get going."
Mets: Hefner seeking first victory
Hefner is 0-4 with a 4.61 ERA in eight games, including seven starts. But he has pitched well over his last four outings despite not having a win to show for it.
Hefner has a 3.33 ERA during that stretch, notching three quality starts. On Monday he held the Cardinals to three runs on five hits in six innings, although he walked four and struck out two.
"Not everything is gauged on wins and losses, although winning is the most important thing -- especially in the big leagues," Hefner said afterward. "I need to keep the runs down early in the game, build some momentum and confidence for myself and the team, and hopefully, we'll come out on the winning side more often than not. Obviously, that hasn't happened this year, so maybe there's some tinkering that needs to happen."
Cubs: Feldman on a roll
Feldman is 3-3 with a 2.53 ERA in his first season with the Cubs, and has put together a string of six starts of two earned runs or fewer. He also has found himself a home at Wrigley Field, posting a 1.77 ERA in 20 1/3 innings there.
He overcame a bit of a rough start on Sunday in Washington, settling in to finish six innings. He limited the Nationals to one run on five hits, walking three and striking out six.
"He's throwing the ball wherever he wants," Sveum said. "You just hope it continues."
• Hefner has made one career appearance against the Cubs, throwing 1 1/3 scoreless relief innings last June 26 at Wrigley Field.
• Feldman has not faced the Mets since June 2008, when he surrendered six earned runs over five innings in a loss. John Buck and David Wright are the only Mets to have faced him in a regular-season game.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.