Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Have Entered the Strange Land Known as "First Place"

This is an unfamiliar feeling. As Royals fans, we’ve grown accustomed to certain emotions around this time of year. In almost every one of the last 29 seasons, mid-June has brought nothing but despair and the realization of another year without a contending team in Kansas City. In almost every one of the last 29 seasons, focusing on the Royals after Memorial Day passes has been a painful endeavor. In almost every one of the last 29 seasons, we’ve experienced summers filled with heartache and frustration, knowing that the playoffs are still beyond our reach.

This season is not like those seasons.

At least not yet.

Following last night’s thrashing of the Tigers, the Royals find themselves in first place in the American League Central. In June. Again, this is an unfamiliar feeling. How unfamiliar? This is the first time the Royals are in first this late in the season since August of 2003. But this is different.

This isn’t the same feeling we had in 2003, when the Royals were clearly the beneficiaries of a significant number of fortuitous situations. Even in the midst of that fluky season, most fans likely understood the Royals weren’t truly a playoff-caliber team. This is a different feeling.

As Ed mentioned yesterday, this team feels like the real deal. Sure, the offensive explosion from the last 14 games isn’t likely to last, but then again, no one expects any team to average 6.3 runs per game for a season. I don’t want to get too deep into the numbers here (which tells you something about my current mental state) but a lot of this recent performance is an over-correction from an awful first six weeks of the season. Regression is coming, but this lineup has talented players, so they should be expected to be better than the worst offense in the league.

This feels like a squad that can contend in the American League. Their rotation has been great, and it doesn’t seem like the results are all smoke and mirrors. That starting pitching is supported by an elite defense and top-notch bullpen, so the run prevention should continue to be solid. I’m not expecting the lowest ERA in the league, but it should be good enough to contend.

Scratch that. It is good enough to contend. The Royals are contending.

Scratch that. The Royals are not just contending. They’re leading the contenders. The Royals are in first place.

And believe me, I realize it’s still just June 17th, and the Royals still have 92 games to play. A lot can happen in a just two weeks, as we’ve seen, let alone 15 weeks. Things are far from over. I said a couple of days ago I still think the Tigers will win the division, and it would be kind of silly for me to change that opinion based on two games. It would also be kind of silly for me to not admit this Tigers’ squad is vulnerable. It feels like their stranglehold on the division has loosened. It’s a strange feeling.

It’s a feeling that may not last. By 3:00 pm today, the Royals may have already surrendered the division lead back to Detroit, putting the Royals back into the role of “the hunter.” This feeling of being “the hunted” – in June – is an unfamiliar one.

But it’s June 17th, and the Royals are in first place. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, but it’s a feeling with which Royals fans are hoping to become very familiar.

Until this feeling does become familiar, though, we’re left wondering how to react. Should we, as fans, celebrate? Should we remain calm? Should we do anything differently? I’m not going to tell anyone how to act when his or her favorite team has a half game divisional lead in the middle of June, but if you’re looking for ideas, I’ll probably be using several of these reactions as a guide.

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