ST. LOUIS -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows the baseball season has its cycles, and right now the Cubs are scuffling. For the first time this season, they have lost three in a row, dropping a 4-3 decision on Monday night to the Cardinals, who won on Randal Grichuk's walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth.
"We pitched well, we had good at-bats -- unable to drive in a run obviously really hurt us, but it's another good baseball game," Maddon said. "Games like that you say, 'Our pitchers only made one or two mistakes, and they beat you,' and it's true. They hit two mistakes out of the ballpark, and we lose."
The Cardinals tied the score on Matt Adams' pinch-hit two-run homer off starter John Lackey, who is well aware of the ups and downs of the season. Chicago now has lost eight of its last 12, scoring 16 runs in the losses. From the start of the season through May 14, the Cubs were averaging six runs per game.
The Cubs have opened the season with at least 29 wins in the first 42 games only twice: 1903 (30-12) and 1907 (33-9). Should Wrigleyville be worried about this skid?
"We need to play better," Lackey said. "'Worry,' I think, is a strong word. We're doing OK."
On Monday the Cubs stranded 10 and went 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They entered the game ranked 11th in the National League in batting with RISP, with the Cardinals first. That was the difference.
"The biggest thing was our inability to get hits with runners in scoring position," Maddon said.
The Cubs came to Busch Stadium in April and won two of three, outscoring the Cardinals, 10-6. St. Louis' Adam Wainwright didn't start any of those contests but was on the mound on Monday.
"They put a lot of tough at-bats on me," Wainwright said. "Probably half of their hits were broken-bat hits. They're very good hitters over there. They put very quality at-bats against you, and they don't give up easily."
The Cubs just need to get back in sync.
"We know it's a long season," said Ben Zobrist, who had three hits. "We have to get back to the grind again. Everybody's been working hard. We just haven't had the results."
The Cubs could blame jet lag, as they didn't arrive at their hotel until 4 a.m. CT on Monday after playing a Sunday night game in San Francisco, but there were no excuses.
"As long as they come ready to play every day, I know we'll get back on a good run," Maddon said. "It's inevitable. Things like this have to happen during the course of the baseball season. You never want them to, but they do."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.