Here's what kind of September we're going to have: As the week kicked off, 19 teams were in a playoff position or within five games of one. Thank you, wild card!
That promises to make September exciting, but we also have Giancarlo Stanton trying to hunt down 60 home runs, tight contests in both leagues for MVP and Cy Young honors, the Dodgers going for 110 wins and the best overall record in the American League stake.
Here's a guide to the month:
Sept. 5 -- Astros at Mariners
Justin Verlander makes his debut for the Astros after 13 seasons and 380 starts for the Tigers. As the Astros stumbled to an 11-17 record in August with a bloated ERA from the rotation and an injury to Lance McCullers Jr., it became more apparent an additional starter would help.
So they made the biggest August trade since Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett went to the Dodgers in 2012. After a sluggish start, Verlander has been superb of late, with a 2.31 ERA and .190 average allowed over his past 11 starts, which means he could pitch his away into the No. 1 starter role in the postseason over Dallas Keuchel.
Sept. 6 -- Yankees at Orioles
The Orioles climbed back into the wild-card race after swatting 57 home runs in August and going 17-12. Manny Machado has been red hot and Jonathan Schoop continues to deliver clutch hits. They probably have the toughest remaining schedule of the wild-card contenders, however, with seven games against the Yankees, three in Cleveland, three against the Red Sox and seven against the Rays.
Sept. 6 -- Astros at Mariners
McCullers makes his first start since July 30 after sitting with a sore back. In four starts before landing on the disabled list, he allowed 32 hits in 18.2 innings with a 9.64 ERA. In two rehab starts, he had six walks and three strikeouts in eight innings, so he's going to have to earn his way back into the postseason rotation. Mike Leake, who won his debut for the Mariners, tries to keep his team in the wild-card race. Note this, as well: Robinson Cano is sitting on 299 career home runs. The only players with 300 home runs whose primary position was second base are Jeff Kent (377) and Rogers Hornsby (301).
Sept. 7 -- Rockies at Dodgers
A huge four-game series for the Rockies, who have stumbled with the National League's worst record since June 21 to lose their once-tight grip on the second wild card. The guy they get to face in the series opener: Clayton Kershaw, who spun six scoreless innings against the Padres in his return from the DL. The Dodgers lead the season series 7-5 and have a plus-19 run differential in those games.
Sept. 8 -- Brewers at Cubs
The Cubs have played much better since the All-Star break -- after a run differential of zero in the first half, they began the week plus-94 in the second half -- yet have been unable to put away the Brewers in the NL Central. The Brewers and Cubs have seven games remaining, so the division is up for grabs. Jimmy Nelson starts for Milwaukee, and he has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the league, ranking second to Max Scherzer among NL starters in FanGraphs WAR.
Sept. 8-10 -- Wild-card extravaganza!
Don't miss the excitement. A thrilling adventure through mediocrity. The weekend features Yankees at Rangers, Twins at Royals and Angels at Mariners, with six of the eight wild-card contenders directly facing off.
How safe are the Yankees? They begin the week with an 86 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs, including 12 percent odds of chasing down the Red Sox. Don't write off Aaron Judge's MVP chances just yet, either. He's probably behind Jose Altuve right now, but with a strong final month -- especially if the Yankees can pass up the Red Sox -- he could still win the award.
Sept. 11 -- Rockies at Diamondbacks.
If the Rockies can get through this series in good shape, things get easier with 12 games against the Padres, Giants and Marlins before a season-ending series against the Dodgers.
Sept. 12 -- Marlins at Phillies
The NL MVP race remains a wide-open affair, with six really strong candidates -- Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto and Charlie Blackmon. Stanton and Votto are working against the "didn't play for a contender" bias, but if Stanton gets to 60 home runs, that might be enough to push him over the top. He has hit eight home runs in 15 games against the Phillies, so a big series here would help him get to 60 ... or beyond.
Sept. 13 -- Tigers at Indians
This one is interesting only because Corey Kluber would start if the rotations remain on schedule. His run since June 1 continues to amaze -- he's 11-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 131.1 innings -- and combined with a couple of poor outings recently from Chris Sale, that means the AL Cy Young race is more of a coin flip than it was a couple of weeks ago. Sale has the advantage in innings and strikeouts, but Kluber leads in ERA and momentum.
Sept. 14 -- Astros at Angels
This is the final game of a three-game series (and a 10-game road trip for the Astros) that will be important for both teams. Cleveland's big winning streak means Houston's grip on home-field advantage isn't a sure thing. The Angels are hoping the additions of Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips will help give more offensive support to Mike Trout.
Sept. 15 -- Cardinals at Cubs
And there are the Cardinals, still breathing. Could this be a replay of 2011, when they went 18-8 in September, snuck into the playoffs as a wild card and went on to win the World Series? The rotation now includes rookie starters Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty.
Sept. 16 -- Dodgers at Nationals
This won't have much to do with the postseason, as the two teams are pretty much locked into the top two seeds in the NL, but it could be a preview of the National League Championship Series. As of now, this lines up as Rich Hill versus Stephen Strasburg, which could be another potential NLCS preview.
Sept. 17 -- Orioles at Yankees
If you're Joe Girardi and you end up in the wild-card game, who do you want to start? Luis Severino might seem the obvious choice, but you could also go with Sonny Gray and lean on that deep bullpen, and then have Severino ready to start twice in the American League Division Series. Anyway, Gray would be on track to start this game against Dylan Bundy. He's just 2-4 since joining the Yankees but has a 3.14 ERA, as the Yankees haven't given him much run support. Bundy, after slumping in June and July, had been very good again, with a 2.00 ERA in August and a 45/6 strikeout/walk ratio in 36 innings -- before a rough outing Monday to kick off his September.
Sept. 18 -- Twins at Yankees
Minnesota's August turnaround has been remarkable. The Twins were 50-53 on July 31 but with a minus-72 run differential. Since then, they've gone 21-13 while outscoring their opponents by 65 runs. Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton and Brian Dozier all have an OPS over 1.000 since Aug. 1, and Joe Mauer has an OBP over .400. Oh, they have the easiest remaining schedule of the wild-card contenders. They could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Sept. 19 -- Red Sox at Orioles
You know who has had a good year whom nobody has talked about? Drew Pomeranz. Everyone eviscerated the trade last year for Anderson Espinoza, but Espinoza got hurt and Pomeranz is 14-5 with a 3.36 ERA.
Sept. 20 -- Royals at Blue Jays
Will the Royals still be alive in the wild-card race? They peaked with that nine-game winning streak at the end of July but have struggled since, including that brutal stretch of four straight shutouts. With guys such as Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar eating up outs, they just don't score enough runs.
Sept. 21 -- Indians at Angels
I wouldn't write off Trout's MVP chances just yet, either. He enters the week trailing Jose Altuve in FanGraphs WAR (6.6 to 6.2) and Baseball-Reference (7.4 to 6.1), but it's remarkable he's that close while playing 41 fewer games. He could still get up to 100 runs and 80-something RBIs with a big month.
Sept. 22-24 -- Cubs at Brewers
Will the Brewers be aiming for the division title or simply fighting the Cardinals (at Pittsburgh) and the Rockies (at San Diego) for that second wild card?
Sept. 23 -- Angels at Astros
Projected date Altuve reaches 200 hits, which could make him just the 13th player with four consecutive 200-hit seasons.
Sept. 25 -- Cubs at Cardinals
The first of a four-game series.
Sept. 26 -- Rays at Yankees
This is the only AL series early in the week that actually pits two wild-card contenders against each other, as the Orioles are playing the Pirates, the Twins are playing the Indians, the Rangers are hosting the Astros, the Angels play the White Sox, the Royals play the Tigers, and the Mariners play the A's.
Sept. 27 -- Marlins at Rockies
Stanton is currently projected to finish with 62 home runs, but that's based on his season pace, not what he has done lately. It also doesn't account for this series in Colorado. So I say this is the date Stanton slugs his 62nd home run. It won't be the single-season record, but it will be pretty awesome.
Sept. 28 -- Astros at Red Sox, Twins at Indians
Lots at stake here with the AL's best record in play, the Red Sox trying to hold off the Yankees, and the Twins trying to capture the wild card, all in potential playoff previews.
Sept. 29 -- Dodgers at Rockies
This past week cost the Dodgers a shot at the single-season wins record, but they still have a chance to break the “modern” NL record of 108 wins shared by the 1975 Reds and 1986 Mets (by modern, I mean under the 162-game schedule format that began in 1962). If they get there, it's likely to come in the season's final series. Also: Rockies outfielder Blackmon is on pace to score 143 runs, which would be the most since Alex Rodriguez scored 143 in 2007 and the most by an NL player since Sammy Sosa's 146 in 2001.
Sept. 29-Oct. 1 -- Brewers at Cardinals
The final weekend! This series could mean nothing or it could determine the second wild-card team. Over in the AL, the Angels host the Mariners, the Orioles go to Tampa and the Twins host the Tigers. Predictions: The Red Sox and Cubs hold their division leads, the Yankees and Twins take the AL wild cards and the Brewers edge out the Rockies and Cardinals for the second wild card. Preferably, we'd get a seven-way tie in the AL and three-way tie in the NL and lots of play-in games before we even get to the real play-in games.