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Machado, Stras, Subway Series kick off 2nd half

Cards, Cubs continue 5-game set; Rox try to pick up where they left off
MLB.com @castrovince

The All-Star break might have slowed the Major League schedule for a few days, but it didn't cease the significant action. Not with superstar shortstop Manny Machado getting dealt to the Dodgers literally as the All-Star festivities were unfolding and with the Indians dealing for All-Star closer Brad Hand from the Padres on Thursday.

So the ceremonial "second half" began with a transaction-wire bang, and now we're back up and running with a full slate of games this weekend. Here are five topics to track:

The All-Star break might have slowed the Major League schedule for a few days, but it didn't cease the significant action. Not with superstar shortstop Manny Machado getting dealt to the Dodgers literally as the All-Star festivities were unfolding and with the Indians dealing for All-Star closer Brad Hand from the Padres on Thursday.

So the ceremonial "second half" began with a transaction-wire bang, and now we're back up and running with a full slate of games this weekend. Here are five topics to track:

Video: David Vassegh weighs in on the Manny Machado deal

1. Mannywood, Part Deux: Hey, look, Machado wound up in Milwaukee, after all. Just not the way Brewers fans hoped.

The Brewers were motivated suitors in the Machado sweepstakes, with the second-lowest OPS (.567) from the shortstop position in the Majors this year. But we know well how difficult it can be for a smaller-market club to go all-in on a rental acquisition (which is what made the Brewers' in-season swap for CC Sabathia a decade ago so striking).

And so it's the Dodgers who scored in the Machado market, and his instant assignment against a potential postseason foe at Miller Park in a three-game series that begins at 8:10 p.m. ET tonight is must-see stuff.

Machado will be throwing on that Dodger blue for the first time and trying to do his part to help L.A. maintain the momentum we witnessed in the first half, when the Dodgers went from 10 games below .500 to 10 games above in a span of just 52 games, thanks to the unexpected impact of guys like All-Stars Max Muncy and Matt Kemp. Now they've got a bona fide superstar at short to fill the void Corey Seager left behind when he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Let the Machado era, however brief it might be and however much it might frustrate clubs like the Brewers, begin.

Video: Bryce Harper talks after 2018 Home Run Derby win

2. Nats more like it: The Washington Nationals did not expect to be here, looking up at the Phillies and Braves in the NL East standings. But even as they're looking up, maybe things are looking up.

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who has been on the disabled list since June 10 with right shoulder inflammation, returns to the Nats' rotation for tonight's 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Braves at Nationals Park. It's an increasingly tense division battle, and Strasburg is just the kind of guy who, if healthy, can help the Nats reassert themselves within it. Washington entered the All-Star break an even 48-48, trailing the surprising first-place Phillies by 5 1/2 games and the equally surprising Braves by five. Though hardly the only issue, injuries were undoubtedly a factor in the Nationals' first-half demise, and getting both Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman back in action this weekend could put the Nats on the path toward repair.

The other lingering storyline, in the wake of that All-Star experience at Nationals Park, is Bryce Harper's swing. So often the concern with an electric T-Mobile Home Run Derby performance like the one Harper put together in his adopted "hometown" is that it will throw a guy out of whack in the second half. With Harper, whose batting average has declined by more than 100 points this year, the hope in Washington is that it puts him back on track and that the love affair between player and town that we witnessed on Derby Day will carry into the final months before his free agency.

Video: Bader, Pham headline Cardinals' first-half Statcasts

3. What's in the Cards? The relative constancy of the Cards was shaken up a week ago when they dismissed manager Mike Matheny and hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller in the midst of a winning-but-unfulfilling 2018 season. Because of the magnitude of a move like that and the urgency of a proud organization trying to avoid missing the playoffs three straight years (for the first time since '97-99), there would have been considerably more attention placed upon the immediate second-half results no matter who they were playing.

But they're playing the Cubs! That's always a big deal, especially now, with the Cubs having achieved a measure of momentum in their quest for a third straight division title and with the Cards, as catcher and leader Yadier Molina said at the All-Star break, "trying to move on, trying to move forward."

The four-game series continues at 2:20 p.m. ET today. The Cards are 8 1/2 games back in the division and 4 1/2 back in the NL Wild Card race. They got a significant wakeup call just before the break, and this weekend will tell us a lot about their ability to answer it.

Video: deGrom strikes out 7 over 8 innings in his last start

4. (From) New York, (to) New York? The rental market at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline doesn't have too many guys of the season-changing ilk like Machado, unfortunately, but wouldn't it be something if the Mets took advantage of a weak starting pitching field and capitalized on the value of a controllable starter like Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz or -- the most valuable chip of all -- Jacob deGrom? And while we're at it, wouldn't it really be something if it were the crosstown Yankees who swung such a swap?

We're probably just dreaming, of course, but, if nothing else, the Yankees will get a first-hand look at those three guys in succession this weekend (Syndergaard opposes Domingo German in tonight's 7:05 p.m. ET opener at Yankee Stadium). deGrom's agent, Brodie van Wagenen, made some noise this week with the release of a statement to The Athletic essentially saying that if the Mets have no intention of extending deGrom, who is already under contractual control through 2020, they should trade him. (He later clarified that he was not demanding a trade).

So it adds another layer of intrigue to the Subway Series, given how well these two clubs seem to match up trade talks, if you can get past the whole "dealing within your city" taboo like the Cubs and White Sox did last summer in the Jose Quintana swap.

Video: Must C Curious: Marquez hits first HR off infielder

5. Rox stars: Issues with what was supposed to be a super 'pen had the Rockies in an eight-game hole in the NL West as recently as June 28. But the Rox went on a roll just before the break, winning 13 of 16 and each of their last five.

They'll look to continue that run in Arizona this weekend against the division-rival D-backs. When these two clubs met last week, things got so crazy that a pitcher (German Marquez) hit a home run off a position player (Daniel Descalso) in a lopsided Rockies' win.

Doubtful we see something that rare again (though Marquez is starting tonight's 9:40 p.m. opener at Chase Field), but we do expect to see an intense showdown between two clubs who are both within two games of the division-leading Dodgers.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks