Cubs @ Mets Tuesday Game Preview

After a lost weekend on Montreal, the New York Mets will try to bounce back starting tonight against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m., and the game can be seen on MSG. The Mets, which had improved to 70-76 after winning nine of 11 games, lost the last three games to the Expos to slip back into last place in the NL East.

Like the Mets, the Cubs have experienced a very disappointing season, going 64-86 despite another huge season by slugger Sammy Sosa. The pitching, thought to be a strong point this year, has struggled, even ace Kerry Wood, who pitches Wednesday night.

The teams meet for the first time since a series in Chicago April 9-11, when the Mets took two of three, losing 2-0 in the opener then gaining a pair of 3-2 wins.

New York sends ace Al Leiter to the mound. The lefty seems to have bounced back from a month-long rough stretch from mid-July to mid-August, winning three of his last four starts to improve to 13-11. In his last start, Leiter shut out the Braves in Atlanta on Sept. 11, giving up six hits in a 5-0 win.

Chicago counters with right-hander Alan Benes, who is making his fifth start of the season. Signed by the Cubs after six years in St. Louis, Benes spent most of the season recovering from yet another arm injury, but he has been excellent in three of his four starts.

In his two wins and a no-decision, Benes has allowed four earned runs and 19 hits in 19 1/3 innings. But in his only loss, he was tagged for eight runs and seven hits in 2 2/3 innings against his former team.

Current Mets haven't faced Benes much, with just Rey Ordonez and Mike Piazza having more than 10 at-bats against him. Piazza and Jeromy Burnitz have homered against Benes, and surprisingly, Ordonez has the best average (5-for-14, .357).

Lately, though, Piazza has been hitting nearly everybody, raising his average from .269 on August 31 to its current .281 by getting hits in 10 of the 11 games he's played in and slugging six homers while driving in 15 runs.

The streak has him at the 30-homer mark for the eighth straight year and maintains his record of knocking in at least 90 runs in every year he's played in the majors.

Sosa comes into tonight's game needing just four home runs to join the 500 club. He's been hot lately, going 9-for-24 in his last six games, including a pair of homers and four RBIs. But he's had little success against Leiter, going just 5-for-24 (.208) with one home run.

In fact, few of the Cubs hitters Leiter will face tonight have hit him at all. All-Stars Fred McGriff and Moises Alou each have .250 averages against Leiter. Only reserve Kevin Orie (7-for-20, .350) and SS Alex Gonzalez (2-for-3 when with Toronto) have averages over .300 against Leiter.

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