This is it: Royals can make or break season over next 15 games

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There have been numerous defining moments and stretches of games for these 2013 Royals.
 
And none will be bigger than the next two weeks when the Royals enter a gauntlet of 12 straight games against Detroit and Cleveland, followed by three more against the Texas Rangers.
 
This 15-game stretch likely will make or break the Royals, who are sitting just 4½ games behind Tampa Bay in the race for the final wild-card spot.
 
“We looked at this stretch a month ago and said, ‘Hey, if we get to this point and we’re still in good shape, it’s going to be very interesting,'” manager Ned Yost said after the Royals’ pulsating 7-6, 13-inning victory over Seattle on Thursday.
 
“Every game is crucial now. And this stretch is crucial.”
 
Designated hitter Billy Butler put it even more bluntly.
 
“Every game now is a must-win game,” Butler said. “Every game is a playoff game.”
 
The Royals open the gauntlet with three games against Detroit, starting tonight at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals and Tigers have squared off in some epic battles already this season, and the Royals have fared well, winning seven of the 13 games.
 
“I think we both have a lot of respect for each other,” Butler said of the Tigers. “I think we bring out the best in each other and they make for great games.”
 
Third baseman Mike Moustakas added that playing the Tigers perhaps pumps the Royals up beyond just a normal game.
 
“It always seems like that,” Moustakas said. “We play them tough. They play us tough. They’re pretty intense games.”
 
For whatever reason, the Royals haven’t performed well against the Indians, posting just a 5-8 mark in the season series so far.
 
The Royals can’t afford to continue that trend because the Indians are one of the teams the Royals must leapfrog to reach the postseason — they are just 1½ games behind Cleveland.
 
And beating the Indians will be crucial from another aspect — the Indians have the softest schedule left of the playoff contenders. In fact, the Royals are the only team left on the Indians’ schedule that has a winning record.
 
“All we can do is take care of the business in front of us,” Butler said.
 
Fortunately for the Royals, as they enter this grueling two-plus-week stretch, they are playing hot baseball again, having won nine of their last 12.
 
And Thursday’s extra-inning win, capped by Moustakas’ walk-off homer in the 13th, can’t help but build momentum.
 
“Absolutely,” Moustakas said. “Those wins definitely fire you up. The season is a long grind and sometimes wins like that give you a little extra boost.”
 
That little extra boost could come just in time.
 
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.