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For better, for worse: Team success tied to fantasy success in stretch

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Intrinsic motivation speaks to motivation that is driven by an interest in a given task for its own merits -- enjoyment for enjoyment's sake. Baseball players maintain varying degrees of intrinsic motivation for the game they presumably love. This is a trait that fans of the game share with the on-field heroes they watch day in and day out.

When intrinsic motivation falters, players can always lean on extrinsic (i.e. outside) motivation. In the case of professional athletes, money is perhaps the most obvious external motivator. In theory, greater input (effort) can result in greater output (statistics), ultimately resulting in greater extrinsic reward (money). The history of modern team sports bears this out, something even casual fans know dearly.

Straddling the line between intrinsic and extrinsic is winning. Winning is the ultimate objective when engaging in competition, and is certainly a part of the game of baseball. However, winning can offer additional motivators in its own right, some of them financial. Yet, as some teams struggle to win, players frequently get distracted or otherwise disinterested in the game, often leading to diminished production. Further, as a team's losses mount, it eventually becomes necessary to plan for the future, substituting regular players for other component parts that may contribute in subsequent seasons. This can have positive and negative implications for fantasy players. Simply, players on competitive teams fare better, while players on struggling teams are frequently worse.

Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers. Two things bode particularly well for Hamilton in 2010. One, he's playing for the resurgent Texas Rangers, a team enjoying a season that could redefine the franchise as a legitimate World Series contender. Two, Hamilton himself is contending for the American League Triple Crown. Batting an AL-best .362 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs, it's fairly easy to extol Hamilton's virtues. From a fantasy standpoint, few batters have approached Hamilton's overall value in 2010. He's carried his ridiculous production from one month to the next without pause. Despite Hamilton's penchant for untimely injuries, there's no reason to believe anything short of a season-threatening injury will keep Hamilton from the lineup at this point in the season. That means he's likely to continue at his torrid pace, making his fantasy owners smile from ear to ear.

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Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies. After playing just 13 games in June and six in July, Tulo is back and healthy for the Rockies and not a moment too soon. Playing .521 ball entering play on August 17, the Rockies are still legitimate contenders in the National League West, and for contenders, every game counts. For his part, Tulowitzki is the centerpiece of the Rockies offense, having been down the stretch run before. Even better, Tulowitzki is hitting a scalding .415 in August with 12 RBIs in 13 games. He's heating up at precisely the right time for his team and his fantasy owners. Assuming he can steer clear of yet another "freak" injury, Tulowitzki should be considered a cornerstone fantasy player -- a five-tool contributor on a contending team.

Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals. For what it's worth, Holliday is regarded as a second-half player, and the numbers support such a contention. Despite playing in 131 fewer second-half games over the course of his career the majority of Holliday's home runs and RBIs have come after the All-Star break. Further, he carries a career .971 OPS after the break versus .899 before. Perhaps he enjoys the pressure, or maybe it's a weather thing. Whatever the case, this is the time of year when Holliday is at his best, and 2010 is proving to be no exception. After hitting .300 in the season's first half, Holliday is already hitting .327 after the break in 2010, with both his slugging and on base percentages also increasing. It looks like it's just that time of year again, and with the Cardinals in the midst of yet another playoff run, it's time for fantasy owners to enjoy the ride.

Brett Anderson, SP, Oakland Athletics. Anderson, who has pitched as well as any pitcher in the American League when healthy, has been beset by injuries all year. A 2.89 ERA and 1.04 WHIP are clear indicators of just how well he's pitched, but he's only been able to toe the rubber 10 times in 2010 to the tune of a 3-4 record. Viewed as a potential ace entering the year, things have been disappointing to say the least. Along the way, teammates Gio Gonzalez (10-8) and Trevor Cahill (12-5) have had breakout seasons of their own, possibly leapfrogging Anderson in the hearts and minds of fantasy owners. However, before anyone gets too enamored with any of the A's new "big three", it should be noted that preserving their long-term health is probably becoming more of a concern than winning ballgames for the 57-60 Oakland A's. IF that transition hasn't occurred yet, it will in the near future. Fantasy owners should prepare in kind.

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins. Any way you slice it, 2010 has been a disappointing season for Ramirez. His .285 batting average is .026 below his career average and fully .057 below his 2009 mark. Further, his OPS, currently .819, would be the worst of his career since bursting on the scene in 2006. Fantasy owners have to be wondering if this is the same player they drafted among the first three picks on draft day. While there's no reason to believe Ramirez might fall victim to injury, this is a player who has missed time due to disciplinary action earlier this year. A lack of hustle and/or a lack of professional motivation (i.e. winning) could prompt Ramirez to take more than a few plays off; missing an occasional game here and there isn't entirely out of the question, especially if and when the Marlins (57-60) go into 2011 preview mode.

Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers. After hitting .320 with 32 HR, 20 SB, 113 runs and 114 RBIs in 2009, Braun was universally viewed as a 5-category fantasy stud. For those expecting a repeat performance, 2010 has been nothing short of a total dud, and for those expecting big things from the Brewers must be scratching their heads over the team's 55-64 record. Some of the team's struggles might stem from Braun's lengthy slump, one that began at the end of April and continues to hinder many a fantasy team. The real concern for Braun owners has been the surprising lack of power. The outfielder's SLG% is down .082 this year and his 16 home runs are a far cry from the kind of number fantasy owners were expecting. It would seem that as Braun goes, so go the Brewers. With a losing record and few games remaining, it's possible that Braun will simply not regain his 2009 form.

Damian Schaab is a senior writer for, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.