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Why wait? October atmosphere a month early

Every night in September has a game with postseason implications
MLB.com @mike_petriello

If you were to look at the official 2017 MLB schedule, you would note that the playoffs are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3, with the National League Wild Card Game. While technically true, it's also not entirely accurate. The playoffs have already begun. Thanks to the wild world of two Wild Cards, they've been going on for some time, actually.

Of the 30 teams, only a dozen are no longer seriously thinking about the playoffs, which we're defining as having postseason probabilities of five percent or less. The remaining 18 teams are all still alive, and even if the Dodgers have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NL and have little left to play for other than a place in history, everyone else has a lot to settle in September.

If you were to look at the official 2017 MLB schedule, you would note that the playoffs are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3, with the National League Wild Card Game. While technically true, it's also not entirely accurate. The playoffs have already begun. Thanks to the wild world of two Wild Cards, they've been going on for some time, actually.

Of the 30 teams, only a dozen are no longer seriously thinking about the playoffs, which we're defining as having postseason probabilities of five percent or less. The remaining 18 teams are all still alive, and even if the Dodgers have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NL and have little left to play for other than a place in history, everyone else has a lot to settle in September.

There's nothing a team can do to improve their odds more than by simply winning games, especially against direct opponents, and that means every game matters. And that means that every stretch of games for the rest of the year has a series that is, in terms of impact, a playoff series.

So, no, you don't need to wait for October for playoff baseball. You can do it every single night, starting right now. Here's how.

Friday-Sunday, Sept. 1-3
You should watch: D-backs (98-percent playoff probability) at Rockies (73 percent)

Video: COL@ARI: Greinke tosses seven innings of two-run ball

With an honorable mention to Royals at Twins and Red Sox at Yankees, this D-backs-Rockies series is essentially a playoff matchup, because it likely will be a playoff matchup, and these three games will have a direct impact on who is likely to move on to the NL Division Series. That's because Colorado is currently three games behind Arizona, and each club is far better at home (Rockies, .591 win percentage; D-backs, .662) than they are on the road (Colorado .493, Arizona, .470). If the Rockies want the NL Wild Card Game at Coors Field, it has to happen now.

Beyond that, though, the Rockies simply need wins. They've played only .500 ball (39-39) since June 1, and the Brewers are only 2 1/2 games behind them in the Wild Card race. You can't host the game if you don't make the game.

Monday-Wednesday, Sept. 4-6
You should watch: Yankees (74 percent) at Orioles (16 percent)

Every year, we count out the Orioles, saying that their rotation isn't strong enough. And every year, they stick around in the playoff race. This time around, the O's won seven in a row before losing to the Blue Jays on Thursday, and find themselves not just 2 1/2 games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot, but even with some glimmer of catching the Yanks for the top spot, too. These three games are followed by four more in New York later in the month.

Thursday, Sept. 7
You should watch: Twins (40 percent) at Royals (10 percent)

It's a relatively light day on the schedule, with just eight games on the docket -- five include an obvious non-contender, and one (Dodgers-Rockies) that is crucial to only one side. That makes this matchup the day's most important, because in the crowded AL Wild Card race, literally every game matters. As things currently stand, the Twins narrowly hold the second spot, and the Royals are 4 1/2 back.

This isn't only the opener to an important four-game set, by the way. With Kansas City playing in Minnesota this weekend, this is actually one of seven games in 10 days between the two sides -- a stretch that could reshape the Wild Card.

Friday-Sunday, Sept. 8-10
You should watch: Brewers (14 percent) at Cubs (96 percent)

Video: CHC@MIL: Heyward, Perez trade outstanding catches

We can't tell the future, obviously. A lot could happen in the first week of games to change things. But despite the best efforts of the Cubs, and despite how well they're playing in the second half, they still haven't been able to shake off the Brewers, who are just 3 1/2 games back in the NL Central. If Milwaukee wants its four-game series vs. Chicato at home later in the month to matter, that means it has to take at least two out of three here to start. The Central isn't over yet, but it would be if the Cubs take this series.

Monday, Sept. 11
You should watch: Rockies (73 percent) at D-backs (98 percent)

On another light slate, you should check back in on Colorado and Arizona to see where things stand after the month-opening matchup, and to start thinking about what that NL Wild Card Game in the desert could look like. But this is only a brief stop for you, postseason baseball watcher. You've already seen three September games between these two, and there might be one more in October to come.

Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 12-14
You should watch: Astros (100 percent) at Angels (30 percent)

A month ago, you'd never have thought this would have been a series that mattered. After all, in late July, the Astros were cruising, the Angels were five games under .500 and worst of all, Mike Trout was on the disabled list. But now? Now, the Halos just added Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips to Trout and Andrelton Simmons, plus Garrett Richards is nearly back, and against all odds, they're four games over .500, merely one game out of the second AL Wild Card. For all his achievements, Trout has never won a playoff game. If they win here, we'll give him credit for one; this is, after all, the playoffs.

This matters for Houston, too. But we'll get back to that soon.

Friday-Sunday, Sept. 15-17
You should watch: Orioles (16 percent) at Yankees (74 percent) (starts Thursday)

Video: BAL@NYY: Yankees launch five home runs in 16-3 win

The Dodgers visiting the Nationals may have the most star power on this weekend, but their positions are secure. Although we've already directed you to the Orioles and the Yankees once, it seems extremely likely that by this point in the month, these two are still going to be in direct competition for either a single AL Wild Card spot or the ability to host a matchup between the two. If not? Rangers at Angels remains pretty compelling, too.

Monday-Wednesday, Sept. 18-20
You should watch: Twins (40 percent) at Yankees (74 percent)

For three days, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and the Twins come to the Bronx, and it's more than just a potential playoff preview. If the season ended today, this would be the AL Wild Card Game matchup -- Twins at Yankees in the Bronx. For Minnesota fans who remember the various 21st Century Minnesota clubs that routinely lost to the Yanks in the playoffs, maybe that's not an appealing thought. For the rest of us, it extremely is -- this year's Twins have one of the most exciting young lineups in baseball.

Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 21-24
You should watch: Cubs (96 percent) at Brewers (14 percent)

We're projecting pretty far out now, and it's possible the Cubs have thoroughly dispatched with the Brewers by now. If not, then this is a must-watch game in Milwaukee, because this may be the deciding series in who wins the division and who goes home. If they have already done that, then an Astros vs. Angels rematch in Anaheim is a pretty appealing backup option.

Monday-Wednesday, Sept 25-27
You should watch: Marlins (8 percent) at Rockies (73 percent)

Video: Marlins in Wild Card hunt thanks to Stanton

Giancarlo Stanton in Coors Field alert! He may already have hit 61 home runs by then, and in 20 career games in Colorado, he's got 10 home runs and a .797 slugging percentage. There is no time at any point when it's a bad idea to watch Stanton hitting at altitude.

But there's more to it than that, because this game should have some importance on the playoff race, too. Every game matters to the Rockies right now, and the surprising Marlins, fueled by Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, are still barely alive, six games out of the second NL Wild Card spot. If they've closed the gap at all by then, every game of this series is a must-win. They would, after all, need to overtake the Rockies to get in.

Thursday-Sunday, Sept 28-Oct 1
You should watch: Astros (100 percent) at Red Sox (99 percent)

We come to the final weekend of the season, and it may seem odd to say that two teams who are likely to lock up playoff spots long in advance of this may be playing meaningful regular-season baseball in late September/early October. But this isn't about making the playoffs: It's about maneuvering for positioning. It was once unthinkable that any team could overtake Houston for the top seed in the AL, yet a 20-24 second half from the Astros has the Indians with only three more losses than Houston, and Boston with five more.

Maybe the Astros will have righted themselves by then. But if not, this matters -- a lot. The No. 1 seed gets to welcome the AL Wild Card Game winner. The No. 2 seed has to deal with the third division winner. If that's still at stake, neither team is going to take this series lightly.

By the final game of this series, you will be watching October baseball, as the last day of the season lands on the first day of the month.

That's not when the playoffs start, of course. The playoffs have already begun. Every single night, something matters.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.