KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every game is intense. Every game is a must-win.
Every game, in short, means something.
That’s a whole new feeling for most of these young Royals. And they are loving it.
“It’s just way more fun to come to the ballpark every day,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “You look forward to it. You can’t wait to get here because it’s exciting. You’re not playing out the string.
“We got a chance to do something special.”
Like Butler, right-hander Luke Hochevar is a product of the Royals’ system who is going through a playoff chase for the first time at this level.
“It’s like nothing else matters,” Hochevar said. “All the individual stuff goes out the window. All you do is focus each night on what it takes to win.
“That’s what makes it enjoyable. It’s why we’re here. It’s why we play. You want a chance to taste the postseason.”
And the Royals are right there, just 2½ games behind Texas for the second wild-card spot, with 12 games to play.
They know the task ahead of them: Win at all costs each night.
The season-long notion of just winning each series no longer applies with so few games left. The Royals now must be in sweep mode.
“Yeah, I don’t know how many wins it will take,” Butler said. “I don’t even want to put a number on it. We have to have the mind-set that we can’t lose anymore.
“There are so few games left, you just have to think about sweeping. Whether it’s realistic or not, you have to think about winning out.”
The sweep mentality begins with this series against the Indians, who are two games ahead of the Royals and who have the easiest remaining schedule by far.
After concluding the Royals series, the Indians have four games with the lowly Astros, two games with the hopeless White Sox and four with the hapless Twins.
That said, the Royals know they have to take care of business with the Tribe right now. And they got off to a good start with a 7-1 win Monday.
“We need a (three-game) sweep right here,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. “That’s what we’re going for. We’re really focused on beating the Indians right now.
“If we can sweep these guys, it’s going to be huge for us. I think we can get right back in it if we sweep these guys.”
Not all the Royals are novices, though, when it comes to playoff chases. Veterans such as James Shields, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, Jamey Carroll and George Kottaras have been there before with previous teams.
Shields, who pitched six strong innings Monday, believes the Royals have what it takes.
“Yeah, man, we can pull it off,” Shields said. “Absolutely. We’ve just got to keep winning games. We just need to win games right now.
After facing Cleveland, the Royals again can take matters into their own hands when they face the Rangers in a three-game series at The K this weekend.
“It’s there for us,” Butler said.
The Royals finish off the season on the road against Seattle and Chicago.
“That’s all we want is a chance to get in by playing well that last week,” Cain said. “A lot can happen. You never know.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.