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.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).