July was very kind to the Dodgers and the Cubs this year.
Los Angeles used a 19-6 month to climb to the top of the National League West, while the North Siders posted their first month above .500 (14-13) in a calendar year.
As the season shifts to August, the two clubs are set to meet for the first game of a four-game set on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, hoping their success from the past month will springboard them to a solid finish.
Ricky Nolasco gets the start for the Dodgers, pitching on seven days' rest. The right-hander was given more time between starts because he was the club's only starter who didn't receive extra days off during the All-Star break.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti swung the deal with Miami for Nolasco on July 6, but otherwise remained relatively quiet as Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approached. He credited the mental toughness within the organization as the biggest reason for the recent turnaround.
"This is the residual of a lot of hard work from a lot of different people," Colletti said. "Patience is one of the toughest traits you've got to have, because you play every day, and you evaluate every day, and every day seems like the end of world when you're going bad. We needed to get healthy, we needed to get our team here and see how they play.
"It takes time and a consistent effort, starting with [manager Don Mattingly] and his staff and the players."
Left-hander Chris Rusin gets the ball for the Cubs, coming off two solid starts against NL West clubs. In 12 innings against the D-backs and Giants, he allowed a total of two runs on five hits.
As a ballclub, the Cubs have had a bit of success against NL West opposition this year, going 6-4 on their recent West Coast trip.
Dodgers: Slow recovery for Kemp
• Los Angeles center fielder Matt Kemp may not return to the Dodgers until September, as his recovery from a sprained left ankle has progressed slower than expected.
"We were hoping this was going to be a simple ankle sprain, but it's a lot more serious than that," Mattingly said. "He's been able to do some things, but is having soreness."
The injury-plagued slugger has notched just 62 games this season and has spent three stints on the disabled list.
Cubs: Hoyer looking ahead after Deadline
• Despite the Cubs' deficit in the NL Central, general manager Jed Hoyer insists there is plenty to play for in the season's final two months.
Hoyer said he expects the bulk of the current roster to return in 2014, and he's hopeful a solid second half can propel the Cubs into contention next season.
"I expect us to be competitive," Hoyer said. "I certainly hope, offensively, that our approach gets better in the next couple months. That's something we have to focus on. We still struggle getting on base, and we're still struggling with runners in scoring position. I'd really like to see that get better going into next year."
• Starlin Castro and Dioner Navarro have each had success against Nolasco. Castro is 6-for-15, and Navarro is 7-for-13 with two doubles and a home run.
• Thursday marks the first of seven meetings this year between the two clubs. The Dodgers haven't dropped a season series to the Cubs since 2008.
• The Dodgers haven't lost a series since the Pirates took two of three in Pittsburgh, June 14-16.