Motivation for bad ball clubs in September is a challenge for every coaching staff. Most baseball lifers will tell you never to evaluate numbers or look for true talent in the last month of the baseball season.
"You can throw all of those September numbers in the garbage," said one longtime American League scout. "Young guys come up from the minors and change the whole dynamic of the game. Teams in contention are OK to look at if they are playing other clubs that are still trying to win. For the most part, it is a variation of spring training for the out of the loop teams."
The Cubs have had little trouble motivating their young players the last two seasons under the guidance of Dale Sveum.
"I have been around the game long enough that you definitely see it," Sveum said. "You don’t see it (loafing) from whole teams; it usually is some individuals here and there. There still is pride involved on 95 percent of those teams.
"There are certain days where you might see a certain lack of planning going on. Everybody deals with those type of problems and can use it as an excuse. What you watch is that guys put the work in and the effort is there every day."
The National League may have a motivation problem, with 10 teams hopelessly out of contention with three weeks remaining in the season. In reality, all 10 clubs out of the playoff loop may finish under .500 in the senior circuit. (Washington and Arizona were just two games above break-even entering play on Saturday.)
Both the Cubs and Milwaukee are playing for either an escape from the National League Central cellar or personal pride.
"I think, selfishly, guys are still playing for contracts and are still playing for numbers," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Saturday. "Some are still trying to stay in the big leagues. Some guys are trying to get in the big leagues. In our case, we have a chance to play the spoiler. We have a great chance to do that with all of the (contending) teams in our division we play."
Owners and GMs look to managers and coaching staffs to keep their high-salaried ball players interested in playing hard. Perception can become reality for a coaching staff that has lost control of its club's energy level. Many a manager or coach have been dumped due to an angry owner or GM who sees any lack of focus from a bad team.
"There are a lot of things to play for," said Roenicke. "Hopefully, from my part, they are playing to win. There are still may other things to motivate them that I don’t have to make too many speeches."
Sveum and Roenicke may have an advantage over teams that have overpaid veterans with long-term contracts this time of year.
"When you have the right people and guys who care about getting better every day through preparation and care about their performance, it makes a big difference," Sveum said.