ST. LOUIS – Tired of hearing about The Cardinal Way yet?

This measuring-stick series ended with the Cubs leaving Busch Stadium on Thursday afternoon after a 5-1 loss that again showed the gap between these two rivals. At the same time, it also didn’t feel like so many other trips to St. Louis where the Cubs appeared to be years and years away from seriously challenging the 11-time World Series champions.

“They got my respect,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But it’s about us. It’s not about them. We have to take care of our own house. We have to create our own culture. We have to create our methods where people are going to start talking about us exactly the same way they talk about them.

“It’s not easy to do. They’ve been doing it for awhile. But I know it can be done.”

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The talking points in the visiting clubhouse revolved around how close the Cubs came to winning three of the four games here. That didn’t exactly match all the chest-pounding rhetoric from those winning-the-offseason press conferences and the carefree days in spring training.    

“I don’t think there’s any gap,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I think we compete.”

No doubt, the Cubs (14-13) are a much more entertaining team, even if they didn’t have an answer for John Lackey, who walked off the mound in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the crowd of 44,472 after allowing only one run on five hits while striking out 10.   

 

But in losing three of these four games, Jon Lester became the only starter who could last through the sixth inning, and the Cubs had to rebuild their bullpen on the fly after too many midgame collapses.

The Cubs committed five errors in the last three games – not including Starlin Castro’s synchronized throwing program – against a team that absolutely preys upon mistakes.

The Cubs also struck out 41 times, with Maddon blasting home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn on Wednesday night, complaining about a perceived double standard, sticking up for rookies like Kris Bryant (zero homers in 19 games).

“The gap is repetition,” Maddon said. “They outcompete us experience-wise. That’s it. And we will make that up.”

Jake Arrieta (3-3, 3.41 ERA) couldn’t build off Lester’s start, getting burned by Lackey’s two-out, two-run double down the right-field line in the fourth inning and some overall shaky defense.  

“We got to be better all the way around,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs, four earned, in 5.1 innings. “There are things we can clean up everywhere.”

St. Louis (21-7) already set a record for the best start in franchise history and enjoys a 6.5-game lead over the Cubs in the division. Lester correctly pointed out that it’s only May and it’s not like the Cardinals are kicking their butts.

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There are 135 games to go and players like Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell should be on the upswing when the Cubs return to St. Louis in late June.     

“We play them enough,” Arrieta said. “We’ll be able to return the favor. We just need to be ready next time.”  

After the game, Maddon lightened the mood by blasting polka music outside his office, getting ready for this weekend’s trip to Milwaukee.  

“I’m not conceding anything here,” Maddon said. “It’s a long year, folks.”