My mantra lately has been “The Royals are contenders for as long as they are in contention.” I still think that 76 wins is a likely target for this team, but until such a date when they no longer have a shot at winning the American League Central or the American League Wild Card, then I’m going to believe. There’s certainly a realistic part of my brain saying “this isn’t real”, but who cares? The Royals are winning and baseball is suddenly a whole lot more fun than it’s been in a long time. I’m riding this wave for as long as it lasts.

There is, however one major obstacle that seems bound and determined to ruin everything for Royals fans: the Cleveland Indians. The other team in the AL Central that nobody picked to be any good is doing its best to run away and hide with the division lead. It seems like the Royals haven’t been able to gain any ground on the Indians  and are just spinning their wheels. It seems that if the Royals win, then the Indians win and if the Royals lose, then the Indians lose. On the bright side, no ground is lost, but then again no ground is gained either. To illustrate the point, I’ve put together a small chart of how the two teams have fared since their last meeting.

It’s clearly not just something I’m imagining. The Royals and Indians have matched each other game for game since they last met on April 28th. The Royals have remained exactly 4.5 games out of first place every day since then. The whole idea of caring what another team in the division is doing is kind of foreign to me as a Royals fan, and it gives me just a little bit of concern that not everything is within the team’s control. However, it definitely adds a whole other dimension to watching baseball. As soon as the Royals game is complete, I’m immediately going to the Indians game to see where they stand.

It’s highly unlikely that these two teams continue matching each other, so eventually something has to change. Neither team has an easy road between now and next Monday when they play each other again though the Royals schedule looks to be the tougher of the two. The Indians play the Tampa Bay Rays and the Seattle Mariners at home, while the Royals go on the road to face the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.

The next six games just might illuminate the American League Central division race and give some clarity to whether the Royals and Indians are for real or just playing over their heads. It’s not make-or-break yet, but for the Royals, keeping pace is going to be important. If the recent past is any indicator, they will do just that.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.