From 2009 to 2012, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen would deteriorate as the season progressed.

The team didn't have the core it has now, causing McCutchen to feel like he had to do it all to help the Pirates win.

"Basically we (stunk) back in the day, so there really was no, 'Oh, he'll back me up, so we can get this win,' " he told Bill West of Trib Live. "It was kind of almost playing for yourself because you're not winning. … 'I'm not trying to take pitches to get on base. I'm trying to get pitches to hit.'"

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With the Pirates returning to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, Cutch sees his job as a bit easier with a better team around him.

"I know when that ball is in the gap, I'm not having to put my head down and go get it," McCutchen said. "It makes it easier on my legs."

Teammate Starlin Marte has certainly noticed a difference.

"It's helping him a lot. Sometimes, his knee, it hurts," Marte said. "I'll tell Polanco, 'Watch Cutch. Watch where he's at. If you think you're too close (to him), take a few steps away, because we can run.'"

His opponents are taking notice as well.

"He's combining all his physical skills with experience, which makes him the most dangerous," Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "You sense that he knows himself so well. He's really in that sweet spot of experience and talent at the highest level."

McCutchen has had another fantastic season, hitting .293 with 22 home runs on the season, collecting hits in 28 of his last 36 games.

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