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Cubs wipe out Cardinals, turn attention to decisive 10-game road trip

Closer Wade Davis and infielder Javy Baez celebrate after Sunday's 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. (AP/Paul Beaty)

It was a shot, all right. Goodbye, Cubs sweep. Nice knowing you, Wade Davis’ streak of perfection.

Except that Dexter Fowler’s soaring blast with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday didn’t find its way over the wall after all. With a 4-3 victory, the Cubs did indeed sweep the rival Cardinals in three games for the second time this season at Wrigley Field. And Davis, in the homestretch of the best season by a Cubs closer, did get his 31st save in as many chances.

The Cubs and Cardinals still will collide for four games next week in St. Louis, but whom are we kidding? The Cardinals — now six games back in the National League Central and 4½ games out of the second wild-card position — are essentially toast.

The Cubs — a season-high 17 games above .500, on a season-high-tying six-game winning streak and four games in front of the second-place Brewers — are in their strongest position yet with only 13 regular-season games to go.

They also happen to be playing their best baseball of the season.

‘‘We are, I can’t deny that,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘We’re definitely playing with the highest level of mental energy that we’ve played with all year, period. So it’s coming at the right time.’’

What else came at the right time Sunday? The gust of wind that knocked down what all the Cubs thought — heck, what everyone in attendance thought — was a go-ahead home run by Fowler, one of the heroes of the World Series last season.

‘‘I thought it was going off the scoreboard,’’ Davis said.

No homer, no harm, no fouling this up for the Cubs — or so it would seem. They head now on a September-defining road trip: two games in Tampa against the Rays, Maddon’s former team, followed by four games each against the Brewers and Cardinals.

‘‘One step at a time,’’ said right fielder Jason Heyward, who tied a season high with three hits and drove in the tiebreaking run with a two-out single in the seventh.

If that sounds like a boring way to look at things, it’s only because it is. But Maddon is fond of dialing things down to boring whenever he feels it suits the moment.

Example: Will the Cubs have one of their cute little ‘‘themes’’ on this road trip?

‘‘ ‘One day at a time?’ ’’ Maddon proposed, tongue-in-cheek. ‘‘How’s that?’’

It’s totally lame, but Cubs fans aren’t complaining. A lot is going right for the defending champs. Right-hander Jake Arrieta is an any-day-now away from rejoining a surging rotation. Shortstop Addison Russell is back at last from a foot problem that persisted far longer than expected. Even left fielder Kyle Schwarber just bopped his way through a homestand to the tune of a .368 average and three home runs.

By the way, it was the same homestand that began with what could’ve been a calamitous three-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers. But it ended with a perfectly nice-looking 6-3 record.

Not that the Cubs are out of the woods and into the lion’s den that is the playoffs just yet. Technically, they still could blow this thing.

‘‘Crazier things have happened,’’ Schwarber said.

With the Cubs playing this well, though? It kind of seems impossible.

‘‘We’re doing what we love doing,’’ Heyward said, ‘‘which is competing and playing for a chance at October.’’

The Cardinals just felt the business end of that, finishing 1-8 at Wrigley this season — their worst winning percentage since they were 0-9 in 1918. But that’s a black mark for them to worry about.

The Cubs have bigger fish to fry.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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