ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's still more than a month remaining in the regular season, but the American League West could be all but decided in the next two weeks as the Texas Rangers play the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros for the next 10 games.
Texas owns an 8 1/2-game lead over both teams heading into Monday's game against the Mariners. The Rangers have a chance to add even more ground between it and the Mariners when the three-game set starts at Globe Life Park.
Texas, which has its biggest division lead since July 3, will start the series with one of its top pitchers going as right-hander Yu Darvish (4-3) gets the nod.
Darvish has pitched in enough big games to know not to put too much pressure on this start.
"I know this is an important game for all of us on the team," Darvish said. "I just try and focus on what I can do to try to take it just as any other game."
Darvish is coming off a start in Cincinnati that was more notable for his hitting than his pitching. He homered against the Reds but didn't figure in the decision as he allowed five runs (three earned) in his six innings. He struggled with his command, walking five.
While the walk total was one shy of his career high in a game, Darvish wasn't alarmed by it.
"I didn't throw many breaking balls in the bullpen sessions between the starts," Darvish said. "I think it was just one of those days so I didn't do anything special to work on the curveball."
Monday's game will also mark the third time Darvish has squared off against Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9) in his career. Darvish said there's no added importance about matching up against another Japanese start and that it's more important to beat the Mariners.
The game will mark just the 12th start for Darvish in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and the right-hander feels good about where he's at.
"I think I'm in a better position than I expected. Looking around at other guys who have had Tommy John surgery compared to some of the guys who are struggling, I think I'm in a better place than I was expecting," he said.
While playing big games late in the season is nothing new for Texas, it's a big deal for Iwakuma and the Mariners.
Seattle hasn't been to the postseason since 2001, so still being in contention as the games wind down is a step forward.
"That was the goal when we all (arrived), a new regime kind of in Seattle, coming on board to play meaningful games in September," first-year manager Scott Servais said. "I think we're going to play meaningful games in September. How meaningful? That's another level. That's where we want to get to.
"Getting to that point where our fan base feels it, they're tied to us every day, that's what September baseball is all about. We're close, we're not there yet. We need to finish up here and get into Texas and see where that leads us."