By Rich Coutinho
» More Columns

Seventeen games into the season the Mets are searching for answers and if they do not find solutions to a multitude of problems, they may be staring down the barrel of a long summer complete with empty seats in Citi Field. Those problems include shoddy fielding, lack of timely hitting and a leaky pitching staff that simply can not get big outs. All th Mets losses really looked the same–early lead, inability to tack on runs, and the bullpen surrendering the game.

Last night at Citi Field, it was a different kind of loss. It really had the feel of a September contest played by a team playing out the string. After all, these were the lowly Houston Astros–recognized as the league’s worst team. The Mets could only muster a Carlos Beltran solo home run and the bullpen once again failed to hold the game where the Mets could come back. The crowd was small and quiet almost–as if they has wished they’d stayed home and watched the Knicks/Celtic playoff game or were anywhere else for that matter.

And that is a real danger sign that we are in mid-April and Met fans are already beginning to lose interest in a team that was loaded with question marks when they began the season. It seems every one of those questions has been answered with a resounding “no.” Jose Reyes will likely be traded at mid-season if the team continues to flounder.

This Mets need a jump-start and need one now. Jason Bay, who seems to be ready to rejoin the club in the next day or two, could provide some excitement and will certainly lengthen their lineup. Bay’s return could give them some much-needed offensive support for a pitching staff that is pretty beat up right now. I really believe Terry Collins has tried everything from clubhouse meetings to lineup changes to personnel moves.

The team did not hesitate to jettison Blaine Boyer and Brad Emaus when they were not making the grade so I think Sandy Alderson has not ignored the facts that the team needs change. But losing beats down a team no matter how much they try to deny it and you wonder if self-doubt has begun to creep into the Mets clubhouse. The body language I see indicates there may be some of that, even though all of the players are saying the right things regarding their confidence in turning this thing around.

But day after day, the losing continues and even the most optimistic of Mets fan must be worried the team is digging themselves a hole that will be too deep to dig out of this season. The consequences of that could include a mid-season team clearance sale if they continue to lose. Some think in the long run, that might be the best thing for the Mets. I am not one of those people because this team has talent and you do not find players like Jose Reyes, for instance, on every street corner. I also believe you can’t fool New York sports fans–you can not have a small market mentality here and win–not with the Yankees spending money like they do across the Throgs Neck Bridge in the Bronx.

The solutions lie in the clubhouse–this team has talent–what they do with it is entirely up to them. If they don’t start winning the Mets face a worse fate than losing. They might begin to not matter in the sports capital of the world. In other words, they might become the New York Islanders.

Will the Mets clubhouse help provide the leadership the need to start winning?

Watch & Listen LIVE