It was just four weeks ago that Cubs president Theo Epstein stood on Wrigley Field and lauded the organization for its work in the month of July.
The Cubs had signed almost all of their top draft picks, made more inroads with international free agents and, oh, yes, posted a 14-13 record.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field
TV: WGN Friday and Sunday Comcast SportsNet Saturday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Jeff Samardzija (8-11) vs. Roy Halladay (3-4) Friday at 1:20 p.m.; Chris Rusin (2-3) vs. Cliff Lee (11-6) Saturday at 3:05 p.m.; Jake Arrieta (1-1) vs. Kyle Kendrick (10-11) Sunday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg returns to Chicago as manager of the Phillies, having taken over from the fired Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16. It's been a disappointing season for the Phillies, who entered Thursday 13th in runs scored and on-base percentage and 14 in walks taken by their batters. The team ERA of 4.20 ranked last in the National League. Domonic Brown, who has battled heel soreness lately, led the team in batting average (.275), home runs (27) and RBI (80) entering Thursday. Chase Utley led in OBP (.341). The Cubs ranked 12th in runs scored, second in homers, 14th in OBP and 11th in team ERA (3.97). This kicks off a nine-game homestand for the Cubs.
Next: Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field, Monday-Wednesday
-- Bruce Miles
But as the Cubs get set to welcome their former Hall of Fame player, Ryne Sandberg, back to Wrigley Field as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies this weekend, they find themselves in a familiar position: sliding toward oblivion in the standings.
In other words, August has not been such an august month.
They enter the weekend 7-19 in August and 8-22 since July 28. This month rivals some other bad Augusts, including last year, when the Cubs went 8-21 in the month on the way to a 101-loss season. The 1999 club was particularly brutal in August, going 6-24.
Last year's August swoon came about largely because the Cubs lost three of their starting pitchers in July, trading away Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and putting Matt Garza on the disabled list for the rest of the season.
The rotation is arguably much better this August, with 13 quality starts. But the offense isn't giving the pitching much of a chance, and the Cubs' "core" players are among the key culprits.
•The Cubs have been outscored 121-84 in August, for a run differential of minus-37. They're averaging 3.23 runs per game, and they've been shut out six times this month alone.
•Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have struggled badly this month, even with manager Dale Sveum trying to jump-start them by changing -- and in Rizzo's case, changing back -- their positions in the batting order.
Castro has an August hitting line of .198/.243/.218 for a sickly OPS of .461. He is 20-for-101 with no homers and 2 RBI.
Rizzo is at .186/.275/.361 or an OPS of .636 in August. He is 18-for-97 with 5 homers and 9 RBI. His July wasn't much better, as he was at .210/.331/.370. In June it was .231/.372/.374.
•Manager Dale Sveum continues to lament the Cubs' lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.
On the recent West Coast road trip, the Cubs were 7-for-47 (.149) with runners in scoring position. They're 223-for-1,018 (.219) for the season, worst in the major leagues.
"It's one thing if you have a horrible pitching staff and can't hold teams down, but all year we've had a lot more quality starts than we did at this time last year," Sveum told reporters during the trip. "And the bullpen isn't as close to being as bad as it was last year.
"You hate to keep bringing it up, because the players hear it, but the bottom line is when you bat .220 with men in scoring position, those close games, you can't add on and you get people out there and lose by 2, lose by 1.
"Those cyber people don't say it's a big stat, but it is a big stat. It's timely hitting that will end up winning a lot of games for you."
Actually those "cyber people," assuming Sveum means "sabermetrics people," do think hitting with runners is scoring position is a "big stat."
They're just not sure if hitting with runners in scoring position is caused by some innate ability to be a "clutch hitter," but that's a topic or another day.
Readying for Ryno:
There hasn't been much reason for the media to come out to Wrigley Field this year, but they should be there in full force Friday, when Sandberg comes to town as skipper of the Phillies.
The current and previous Cubs baseball regimes passed over Sandberg for manager. The Phillies hired him away after the 2010 season, and on Aug. 16 they named him interim manager, replacing the fired Charlie Manuel.
Cubs fans no doubt will give Sandberg a rousing ovation if he's the one who takes the lineup out to home plate.
"We'll all see," Sandberg told the Philadelphia media. "We'll see what happens. I'm not (banking on it). You never know. We'll see."
The Phillies are 8-6 under Sandberg after Thursday's loss to the New York Mets. He told the local media he has not thought much about his return to Chicago, where he carved out a Hall of Fame career after being traded to the Cubs by the Phillies.
"Really with these games going on, I haven't had time to focus on that," he said. "But if I had to look ahead … I don't know what to expect. I'm excited about going there, and I guess the first thing to do will be taking the lineup card to home plate. We'll see. It should be fun."
He also said he bears no bitterness toward the Cubs for not allowing him to advance as a manager beyond the Triple-A level despite years of success in the system.
"I'm not disappointed at all; that's baseball," he said. "I moved on to join the Phillies at the Triple-A level. There was some talk I didn't have experience at the major-league level.
"So as it turns out, coming here was a smart thing. I was able to be here as the third-base coach, be back in the big leagues and use it as a steppingstone."