CHICAGO -- The problem wasn't Casey Coleman, although he did leave too many balls up and struggled with his command. It wasn't a lack of hits as the Cubs added nine more, raising the three-game series total to 39. Nor is the issue the losing record at home.
What's been puzzling for the Cubs is their inconsistency.
"You have your ups and downs," Chicago's Marlon Byrd said. "We need to get that up and keep it for awhile."
Matt Holliday belted his fifth homer and Jon Jay had three hits and three RBIs to back Jaime Garcia (5-0) and lead the Cardinals to a 9-1 victory Thursday over the Cubs. Give Round 1 of the National League Central rivalry to St. Louis.
The Cubs totaled 39 hits in the three games but stranded 25 runners. Ouch.
"We just have to get some guys rolling together," Jeff Baker said. "It's not like we're rolling back to back to back. It's going to turn."
The Cubs are well aware of the numbers. They're trying to motivate from within -- there's a hand-written message on the clubhouse board, "Fortune favors the bold." They are second in the National League in hitting but near the bottom when it comes to batting with runners poised to score.
"We have to do a better job with runners in scoring position -- it's become its own monster," Baker said. "It's the same at-bat, it's just slowing things down. Hopefully, this will just be a small blip."
Are guys feeling pressure to deliver?
"Not at all," Baker said. "Every day you get beat over the head with it. I'm not saying guys don't think about it -- yeah, it bothers us. Guys want to do better with guys in scoring position. Everybody wants to be the guy with that hit. It's more trying to do too much than lack of preparation or lack of effort."
Coleman (1-3) could've used some help. The right-hander, making his sixth start filling in for injured Randy Wells, took the loss, giving up six runs, nine hits and four walks over 4 1/3 innings. He did retire Albert Pujols three times, but the Cardinals got all the runs they needed without the slugger in a five-run second.
Holliday got things started with a leadoff homer, his fifth, as he launched a 1-0 changeup from Coleman onto Waveland Avenue behind the left-field bleachers. Colby Rasmus singled and reached third on Yadier Molina's double. One out later, Tyler Greene walked to load the bases. Garcia helped himself with an RBI single, Jay added a two-run double and Allen Craig hit a sacrifice fly to go ahead, 5-0.
"Command is so important for him -- it's his whole game," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He can't get away with the ball up, he doesn't have enough velocity. ... It's fun to watch when he's locked in but a heck of a battle when he's not."
Coleman knows that. In the second, he was out of sync.
"Every hit I gave up that inning was up," Coleman said. "They're good hitters but they make you pay when you walk a few guys and leave balls up, and that's what I did that one inning."
It's different pitching in April and May when you're trying to stay in contention than it is in August, which is when Coleman came up last year and the Cubs were out of the race.
"Now you want to do so well for your team, you want to give them six, seven innings, that sometimes I put a little too much pressure on myself and work too quick," Coleman said. "It is a different feeling, but I have to use it as a positive feeling."
Garcia, coming off a two-hit shutout against the Brewers, scattered nine hits over seven innings.
"It wasn't probably the best I've felt this year physically," Garcia said. "But I was just trying to find a way. If one pitch wasn't working, you go to the next one. You try to give your team a chance to win. And I feel like I did a pretty good job of that. Big series for us, and a big win."
"Five runs early for a guy who pitches as well as him ... that's a real nice thing for him to deal with," Quade said. "We have to solve him."
The Cubs tallied in the sixth on Baker's RBI single, part of his 3-for-4 day. But they left the bases loaded that inning. The euphoria from Wednesday's 11-4 win was quickly dashed. Quade isn't holding his breath for home runs; they rank 10th in homers in the NL.
"Just RBI singles would be fine," he said.
"We have to be more consistent," Byrd said. "We're not finding that yet. [Winning] one out of three, especially against the Central, is not going to cut it. Our consistency has to be there -- hitting, pitching, defense, all around. ... Once we put it all together, we'll get a winning streak going."
Tony La Russa was back, sort of. Pitcher Kyle Lohse brought out the lineup card wearing sunglasses and La Russa's No. 10 jersey. He got a round of applause from the Cardinals dugout when he returned. La Russa was in St. Louis, recuperating from shingles, and missed this series.
"I said, 'Nice tattoo, Tony,'" said Chicago bench coach Pat Listach, who exchanged lineup cards.
"It shocked me to death -- I thought they had [La Russa] under quarantine," said Quade, who knew it was an imposter.
The Cardinals could afford to have fun. They're in first place.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.