Deja Vu All Over Again

It's difficult to beat the same drum day after day, but here it is one more time. No, the Mets aren't hitting. And yes, it could get worse before it gets better. <P> The Mets are stuck in a rut of "Groundhog Day"-esque proportions, having scored a run or less in eight of their last 13 games. Unlike Bill Murray's weatherman character in that classic flick, the Mets have no punchlines to offer and very little entertainment value.

That is, unless you're a Cubs fan. The Mets rolled into Wrigley Field this weekend and quickly assumed the role of the Washington Generals for the Bleacher Bums, allowing Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement to showcase their wares against New York's meager offense.

Thankfully, Mark Prior – still sidelined with his mysterious arm-or-elbow injury – was absent from the pitching matchups this weekend. Still, you get the sense that if he were to pitch against the Mets, injured wing and all, he'd have thrown a shutout anyway.

That's just the way things are going for the Mets, who narrowly escaped being no-hit yesterday when Karim Garcia slugged a Clement offering into the center-field shrubbery in the seventh inning.

Sure, it wasn't enough to actually leave Chicago with a victory, but it was a run and a hit all in one neat package, and that's considered pretty good right now for a club that's managed to average just 1.4 runs per game in their last 13 contests.

Eric Valent later contributed a single, which summed up the Mets' offense for the afternoon and for the most part of the weekend. New York scored two runs in 27 innings against the Cubs, striking out an eye-popping 37 times in the series.

"Everyone needs to get going," said manager Art Howe, bypassing his usual claims that the Mets "battled." They most certainly did not.

Now, the Mets have a built-in excuse, sort of. The lineup looks nothing like it did when GM Jim Duquette originally configured it on paper this past winter, and three of the players who flailed helplessly at Clement's offerings yesterday – Valent, Jeff Duncan and Ricky Gutierrez – weren't considerations to make the 25-man roster when the club reported to spring training.

New York desperately misses the presence of both Cliff Floyd and Jose Reyes, but neither is especially close to returning – it's doubtful either will join the Mets on their West Coast trip that stretches through May 2.

"When Cliff went down, we expected there to be a significant drop-off in the offense," Duquette told Newsday. "I can't say I expected this type of collective struggling."

ON DECK: Those struggles could very well continue as the Mets open a three-game series in Los Angeles Tuesday. Dodgers starter Hideo Nomo is 3-0 in his last three starts, and Wednesday's starter Odalis Perez has always been a tough cookie (3-4, 3.26 ERA in 13 career games vs. New York) for the Mets to solve.

Salvation could come on Thursday, when the Mets are lined up to face the Bronx's favorite punching bag, Jeff Weaver. After being exiled from 161st Street and River Avenue, Weaver is up to his old tricks in Chavez Ravine, having gone 1-2 with a 9.19 ERA in his last three starts.

MINOR LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS: Matt Ginter, acquired in the Roger Cedeno deal from the Cardinals, had an impressive outing yesterday for Triple-A Norfolk. Ginter allowed just three hits over six shutout innings in a 3-2 Tides victory over Charlotte. … Capital City's Ian Bladergroen went 3-for-5 with a grand slam in the Bombers' 11-10, 11-inning victory over Hickory.

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