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Seven things to look forward to in second half

MLB.com @RichardJustice

To the Cubs and White Sox, we say thank you. Just when things were starting to get quiet, you tossed that little firecracker of a trade through the window Thursday morning: White Sox lefty Jose Quintana to the Cubs for a passel of prospects.

Baseball people love this kind of big, dynamic potentially win-win deal and will be keeping score for years. But the best part of this trade could be the message it sends to 28 other front offices.

To the Cubs and White Sox, we say thank you. Just when things were starting to get quiet, you tossed that little firecracker of a trade through the window Thursday morning: White Sox lefty Jose Quintana to the Cubs for a passel of prospects.

Baseball people love this kind of big, dynamic potentially win-win deal and will be keeping score for years. But the best part of this trade could be the message it sends to 28 other front offices.

Welcome to the second half. Things just got interesting.

You thought it began Friday, didn't you? That thinking is so 2016. Now every general manager waiting for a trade he's comfortable with knows he may have to settle for one he's decided uncomfortable with.

Instead, they may feel compelling to do what the Cubs did: Go get your guy. If you overpay, no sweat. You can sleep soundly if you know you gave your team every chance to win this season.

With 19 teams easily within range of a postseason berth and with elite pitching scarce, this could be a seller's market. Welcome to the second half indeed.

Here we go with seven things to look forward to:

1. Competitive balance reigns
Only four of last season's 10 postseason teams would be in the playoffs if the season had ended at the All-Star break. The D-backs, Rockies, Twins and Brewers have turned the postseason race upside down. The Cardinals, Rangers, etc., are waiting for a spark. Stay tuned.

2. Can the Dodgers and Astros be stopped?
Oh, please. Weren't we discussing starting pitching a moment ago? The Nationals have Max Scherzer at the top of their rotation, and he's capable of doing for his team what Madison Bumgarner did for the Giants in 2013. Here's a list of pitchers who could also be pitching against the Astros and/or Dodgers in the playoffs: Chris Sale (Red Sox), Zack Greinke (Dbacks), Corey Kluber (Indians) and Quintana (Cubs).

3. Why is Brad Hand one of the hottest names in the trading marketplace?
Hand would upgrade every contender. He's playing for a team, the Padres, willing to deal. That's why the Yankees, Nationals and Astros are among the teams believed to be pushing hard for the Padres' All-Star lefty reliever. Hand is 27 years old and 2 1/2 seasons from free agency. He has 60 strikeouts in 47 innings and a 1.000 WHIP. Hand would significantly upgrade any contender. Someone is going to overpay, and that's OK.

Video: 2017 ASG: Hand whiffs Cano to end the top of the 7th

4. Dallas Keuchel might decide the American League pennant
Keuchel has had no apparent setbacks in his return from a second stay on the disabled list because of a pinched nerve in his neck. When he's healthy, he gives the Astros a top-of-the-rotation starter capable of dominating the postseason.

Two trips to the DL is a cause for concern and ramps up the pressure on general manager Jeff Luhnow to acquire one of the reamining available starting pitchers. Problem is, Luhnow may not see anyone out there worth one of his top prospects, especially Double-A outfielder Kyle Tucker.

5. Are the Nationals and White Sox going to do this David Robertson deal or not?
This we know: the White Sox are prepared to deal the 32-year-old right-hander with 131 career saves and a 1.021 WHIP in 2017. In terms of available closers, no one else comes close. So far, though, the Nationals have been unwilling to surrender the elite prospects the White Sox are seeking. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has held his ground. He got a nice payoff for holding onto Quintana until he was comfortable with what he was being offered.

Video: CWS@COL: Robertson fans CarGo to notch 13th save

6. Weren't the Rays built around pitching?
That's what makes them so dangerous. They scored 4.8 runs per game in the first half, which is almost a run higher than last season's 4.2 runs per game. Kansas City's starting rotation has been solid, too, right behind Houston with a 4.05 ERA. Now, the bullpen has gotten better with Brad Boxberger back from the disabled list.

7. Does Royals GM Dayton Moore have the toughest job in baseball?
No one does his job better. Yes, he was facing a tough call. At the moment, it's probably not. The Royals finished the first half having won 18 of 27 and are close to both the AL Central lead (three games) and an AL Wild Card berth (1 1/2 games). Unless Kansas City has a poor couple of weeks, Moore will keep the band together for one more run even with Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Jason Vargas set to become free agents after the season.

This first half has delivered on just about every level. We thought the Dodgers and Astros would be good. We just didn't think they'd be this good. We've watched a new class of contenders emerge and a new generation of young stars, too.

This is a cool time to be a baseball fan. To watch the D-backs and Brewers, among others, is to be caught up in their confidence and joy. That's also what it's like watching Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger and the rest of these amazing kids.

Here's to a great second half, even if it did begin a day ahead of schedule.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Brad Hand, Dallas Keuchel, David Robertson