Progression to the Mean?
The team started out with members of the pitching performing below expectations and even a few pitchers went down with injury. Additionally, the offense was inconsistent. Many of the batters had decent statistics, but the team had trouble scoring runs at times. As we entered the summer, much of the focus turned to the manager. Eventually though, most people who seriously followed baseball expected the team to come around. After all, we thought, these are players with long histories of good production so certainly it is only a matter of time before the team starts to play like we think they should.
That could be the description for much of the season for either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Houston Astros. But since the All-Star break, and particularly since August 1, the stories have been quite different. Since August 1st, when the Astros decided they had had enough of their quirky manager, Jimy Williams, and replaced him with Phil Garner, the team has been on playing quite well, getting into a virtual tie for the Wild Card in the National League with the Cubs. The Phillies on the other hand never did get it together, and actually plummeted down the standings through August - they failed to beat a team over .500 - settling into third above the rudderless Mets and the cityless Expos.
The 'Stros may have simply "progressed" to the mean and began to win the way their players career histories would predict they should. But it is also possible that changing managers made a difference, on some level at least. So while the Astros recognized their shortcomings and addressed them early enough to make September meaningful, while the Phillies were content with the status quo. I can certainly understand not trading any of the Untouchables, but if it is clear you can't make a significant trade, then isn't replacing Larry Bowa warranted?
It is likely that because the Astros brass took a proactive stance, their fans can enjoy a race for a playoff spot and maybe even the playoffs themselves. It is also likely that because the Phillies brass took an inactive stance, their phans can turn to the Eagles or analyze the minutiae of every start Gavin Floyd makes from now until the end of the month.