Next 10 days pivotal for Manuel

The next 10 days could be critical for Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

The Mets have lost five straight games and 11 of their last 15, falling into last place in the National League East.

Manuel cannot be held responsible for the inadequacies of left-hander Oliver Perez and righty John Maine, or lefty Jon Niese's latest hamstring injury.

But the Mets, after getting swept four straight games in Florida, are entering a pivotal part of their schedule.

The team, 4-12 on the road, continues its current trip with two games in Atlanta and two in Washington before returning home for a six-game homestand against the Yankees and Phillies.

An extended losing stretch could put Manuel's job in jeopardy, even if the reasons for the slump are beyond his control.

At some point, Mets management might simply wish to change the conversation.

Average attendance at Citi Field has fallen from 38,941 last season to 31,891 this season, a dropoff of more than 18 percent.

Fan apathy only will increase if the team falls out of contention. And the obvious scapegoat will be the manager.