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Cardinals will be back … and often

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It’s going to be a somber plane ride back to St. Louis for the Cardinals following Wednesday night’s World Series ouster at Fenway Park, but these birds will be playing on big stages for years and years to come.

There may not be a team in baseball that is better-poised for an extended run of future success.

Adam Wainwright is an established ace and under contract through 2018. Michael Wacha has all the tools to join Wainwright in that elite category, and Shelby Miller would have been a National League Rookie of the Year shoe-in if not for Marlins young stud Jose Fernandez. Carlos Martinez could join Wainwright, Wacha and Miller in the St. Louis starting rotation in 2014 and Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia are just a few of the organization’s other starting pitching options. Trevor Rosenthal — the club’s current fireballing young closer — has said publicly that he wants an opportunity to be a starter.

And that’s just the rotation. Kevin Siegrist, a 24-year-old lefty, is a rising star in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Seth Maness, a 25-year-old righty, posted a 2.32 ERA over his first 62 major league innings this season. John Axford, who found new life after arriving in St. Louis via a waiver trade, is eligible for salary arbitration. Jason Motte should be recovered from his Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery around early May.

Matt Holliday is locked in through at least 2016, Yadier Molina is locked in through at least 2017 and Allen Craig signed a big extension this past spring that can keep him in St. Louis through 2018. Matt Carpenter emerged as an MVP candidate this summer and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras is ready to step in for Carlos Beltran, who is all but certain to accept a multi-year contract elsewhere in free agency. Exciting second base prospect Kolten Wong has the look of a future major league regular and could claim a starting job as early as 2014 if the Cardinals move Carpenter to third base and part ways with the arbitration-eligible David Freese. Don’t forget imposing slugger Matt Adams, who flashed game-changing power this year.

The Cardinals are stacked with good, young talent and have more than $30 million in player salaries coming off the books this winter between Beltran, Rafael Furcal, Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook.

The only real hole is at shortstop — and maybe center field — and the Cardinals will have the budget to make a major upgrade there. The most-storied franchise in the National League will write many more chapters.

Cubs extend Pedro Strop through 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.

Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.

The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.

Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.

Video: John Axford discusses 2017 Oscar picks

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 08:  John Axford #61 of the Oakland Athletics throws a pitch during the seventh inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 8, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Sure, it may feel gimmicky to go around asking players to make predictions for the Academy Awards, but when it comes to the Athletics’ John Axford, he knows what he’s talking about. The right-hander has a proven track record of making near-perfect ballot predictions, getting 14 of 15 winners correct in 2013, 18 of 18 in 2014, 17 of 24 in 2015 and 17 of 24 again in 2016.

With a range of award-worthy films to choose from this year, Axford selected the crowd-pleasing (and record-breaking seven Golden Globe winner) La La Land for Best Picture, Manchester By the Sea‘s Casey Affleck for Best Actor and “the sweetheart of Hollywood,” Emma Stone, for Best Actress.

His full ballot was released to Twitter on Saturday, locking in La La Land for eight total Oscars. Going a perfect 24-for-24 might be a near-impossible feat, but if anyone can pull it off, Axford’s the one to do it.