After watching the Sox drop the series to the Texas Rangers and fall a half-game out of the Wild Card lead, a drinking buddy and I engaged in some friendly debate over the musical question, “What, exactly, is wrong with this team?”

My friend insisted the troubles start at the top. And I guess I can see that thinking. For a long time, everything Theo touched turned to gold. Swapping Nomar for OC? Worked out pretty damn nicely for us. Trading the ultimate blue chip Hanley Ramirez? No problem–it brought us Commander Kick Ass and Mikey Lowell, two key factors in our 2007 title run. Dumping Manny and grabbing up Jay Bay? Sure seemed like a great idea at the time, when the Untanned One started knocking home runs and acting all gentlemanly in the clubhouse. Re-making The Wiz with a cast made up entirely of former Sox hurlers, including Greg Harris as the Scarecrow, Steve Avery as the Cowardly Lion and Tony Fossas as the Tin Man? They didn’t award him that Best Picture Oscar for nothing.

But after watching Alex Gonzalez pull a 1-for-8 during the last two games of a critical Texas series, I had to agree that this is one of the first seasons that the cracks in the Boy Wonder’s armor have been alarmingly visible.

Brad Penny? I wouldn’t trust him in a playoff situation unless it was the fourth game of a series we lead 3-0, and he was brought in when we were winning 17-0 and everyone on the opposing team had a sack of canned hams tied to each leg. John Smoltz? He’s due to be unplugged today when his waiver period expires. Rocco Baldelli gave us a feel-good story for the local papers, but it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s even on the team. A-Gon’s return gives us a slicker glove but plugs yet another automatic out into a line-up that consistently struggles to plate runs. And a seemingly endless parade of subpar utility men like Adam LaRoche and Casey Kotchman have got me pining for Mark Kotsay.

In addition, consider the lingering question marks behind the barrels of cash paid to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo and JD Drew, which has given us practically no return on our investment in 2009–an investment of $31 million combined, as only Beckett, Lowell and Ortiz earn more than any one of them (Drew, of course, is the most handsomely-paid player on the team, pulling a Manny-like salary of $14 mil while putting up Kotsay-like numbers).

So, my friend concluded, our current slide in the standings, highlighted by a losing record since the All-Star break and a frustrating inability to win on the road, seems to be the result of a “perfect storm” of sorts; a convergence of bad off-season gambles from the last several winters combining to bring us all down.

But in the midst of this post-ASG slide, it’s easy to forget that this team did have the AL’s best record for a good chunk of the first half. That doesn’t happen by accident. At some point, they lost… something. The fire, the spark, the urge to go out there and introduce cleat to opposing player’s ass. I thought it was back after Friday night’s come from behind epic–far and away the feel-good game of the summer. But it didn’t re-appear at any other point of the weekend, so perhaps they’re saving it up for Doc Halladay and Toronto.

The point of this rambling, I guess, is to say that no matter how bad things may look right now, there’s still plenty of baseball left to play. As I told my friend yesterday, I remain convinced the that Red Sox will make it to the 2009 post-season. Hell, I’m not even willing to surrender the AL East, given the Yanks’ recent propensity for collapse.

If I’m wrong and this team becomes nothing more than an expensive footnote to the 2009 season, I can see Young Theo coming under fire. But the guy’s put together two more World Series-winning teams than I ever will. Who am I to doubt him?