SAN DIEGO -- For weeks into the season, the phrase "With a lineup like ours" prefaced so much of what the Mets said. Their batting order, they said, was their strength, the component that would fuel a return to the postseason even if the other components were substandard.

Those five words seldom are heard now. The offense has underwhelmed for weeks -- "at least six weeks," manager Willie Randolph said -- and not for lack of baserunners.

The Mets' inability to hit with runners in scoring position is the stick in the spokes. It has suffocated countless opportunities and is unquestionably the team's primary weakness.

The Mets began their game here on Monday having averaged 3.88 runs per game in the preceding 50 games -- compared to 5.15 per game last year -- and 5.11 in the first 42 games this season.

The middle of order, namely Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, has been mostly responsible for the offensive shortfall.

Beltran had seven hits in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position during a 10-day sequence in late June. Since then and through Monday, he has one hit in 15 at-bats in those situations. And excluding that nine at-bat sequence, he was batting .185 in 81 at-bats overall through Monday.

Delgado had seven hits in his first 20 at-bats with RISP this season. And through Monday, he had six in 18. But beginning April 20 and running through June 20, he batted .123 in 57 such at-bats. For the season, entering the game Tuesday, his average was .211.

Not surprisingly, Beltran (90) and Delgado (95) had batted more with runners in scoring position than any other Mets hitters through Monday, and their combined slugging percentage in those 185 at-bats was .318.

But it goes beyond the Carlos brothers.

"We're not hitting as a team," Howard Johnson said Tuesday, his fifth day as hitting coach. "We're not believing we can hit, and that's troubling. We have to start feeling good about what we do."

Confidence comes from hitting, though.

What a steal: Orlando Hernandez stole second base and scored in the fifth inning. The steal was the third of his career and second in two starts. Tom Seaver was the last Mets pitcher to steal two bases in a season. He had two, also in successive starts, in 1967, his rookie season. He was 22 years old. El Duque is listed at 38 but might be as old as 41.

Progress? Moises Alou was to play the outfield Tuesday in his second rehab game, but he served as the designated hitter for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Mets. He was hitless in one at-bat, walked and was hit by a pitch. He stole a base and scored once. The Mets remain in a wait-and-see position with the disabled veteran.

Chip ahoy: The Mets promoted 27-year-old right-handed-hitting outfielder Chip Ambres from their Triple-A Norfolk affiliate on Tuesday. He replaces Damion Easley, who was assigned to the bereavement list. Easley, who remained with his ailing father in Riverside, Calif., is assigned for a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven.

Ambres was batting .272 with 60 runs, 18 doubles, 16 home runs, 49 RBIs in 301 at-bars with the Zephyrs. He had walked 46 times and struck out 71 times.

The Mets signed him as a free agent in December. A first-round Draft selection of the Marlins in 1998, Ambres appeared in 53 games with the Royals in 2005, batting .241 with eight doubles, four home runs and nine RBIs in 145 at-bats.

Willie Randolph said Marlon Anderson, re-signed by the Mets last week, hadn't yet had sufficient at-bats to be ready for the big leagues, but his return to the Mets in on the not-too-distant horizon.

This date in Mets history -- July 18: Joe Hicks produced a perfect ending for the Mets on this date in 1963. He hit a two-run home run against Don Larsen in the 11th inning to produce a 9-7 victory against the Giants at the Polo Grounds ... Five years later, Tom Seaver stuck out 10 Pirates batters, including Roberto Clemente three times, in a six-hitter in the Mets' 3-0 victory in Forbes Field. Clemente struck out 21 times in 62 career at-bats against Seaver. Matty Alou, a .359 career hitter against Seaver, had three of the six hits.

The Mets' 8-5 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis on this date in 1971 was their 14th loss in a 16-game sequence that put their record at four games over .500. They had been two games behind the first-place Pirates through June. They were 13 1/2 games behind on July 21 ... Mickey Lolich pitched his second shutout in four starts and his second and last in 37 starts in the National League on this date in 1976. A Mets pitcher in 1976 only, Lolich beat the Braves on a two-hitter at Shea Stadium ... A grand slam by Dave Gallagher was one of four home runs the Mets hit in a 12-6 victory against the Giants at Candlestick Park on this date in 1993. The victory was the second in a sequence of three straight victories, the team's longest winning streak in its first 99 games. The longest streak for the Mets that season was six games -- their final six games.

Coming up: The Mets face Greg Maddux in the third game of the series at PETCO Park on Wednesday night at 10:05 p.m. ET. John Maine, the Mets' starter, faces the Padres for the first time in his career.