An entire team stepped up
Strangely, the Reds played their best baseball of the season without their best player in the lineup. Cincinnati went 32-16 (.667) in the 48 games Joey Votto was on the disabled list while requiring two surgeries to repair damaged cartilage in his left knee. When Votto went down, the Reds had a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central. When he returned, the advantage was 8 1/2 games.
They call him Johnny C.
Johnny Cueto was the epitome of a rotation ace this season, as he established new career highs in wins (18), innings (203) and strikeouts (159), with two starts remaining in the regular season. He's the first Reds pitcher to win 18 games since Pete Schourek in 1995. Until a September swoon, Cueto was one of the leading contenders for the NL Cy Young Award.
Rotation and battery mates
It was also a resurgent year for Bronson Arroyo, who overcame a dreadful 2011 and returned to consistency in '12. Winter acquisition Mat Latos endured a subpar April before straightening out to complete a solid first season in Cincinnati. No one in the Reds' rotation, including Mike Leake and Homer Bailey, missed a start this season because of injury or otherwise.
One common trend for Cueto, Arroyo and Latos was catcher Ryan Hanigan, who guided all three from behind the plate all year. Hanigan's catcher's ERA is among the lowest in baseball. He also caught all 10 of Cincinnati's shutouts this season.
Zack Cozart entered the year as the Reds' starting shortstop, and he largely did not disappoint. Defensively, Cozart could make both the routine and the exceptional plays, and he chipped in offensively. Cozart leads NL rookies in extra-base hits, and his 15 homers are the most by a Reds rookie shortstop.
Todd Frazier did not make the club out of camp, but he became indispensable when he filled in -- first for Scott Rolen at third base and later for Votto at first base. Frazier became a viable NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate in the process, and he is among rookie leaders in multiple offensive categories.
The bullpen overcometh
Usually, the loss of three key late-inning relievers could mean curtains for an otherwise productive bullpen. Spring Training injuries ended the seasons of closer Ryan Madson and setup man Nick Masset, and limited lefty Bill Bray to a handful of lackluster innings.
Yet, Reds relievers were incredibly reliable, with Sean Marshall, Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and Trade Deadline acquisition Jonathan Broxton among those shortening games in the later innings. Of course, there was one other major key in the equation ...
After the three relievers went down, necessity altered the original plan of making Chapman a starter. And when Marshall didn't have a smooth time replacing Madson, the Reds went to a very effective Plan C when Chapman was installed as closer on May 20. Chapman has an impressive 35 saves, including a club-record 27 straight saves from June 24-Sept. 7.
For nearly two months, the lefty did not allow a run in 23 straight appearances. Chapman, who averages nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings, started generating NL Cy Young Award talk with his dominating performances and his fastball velocity that still reached triple digits.
Ludwick rediscovers his swing
Ludwick, signed over the winter to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, was batting only .201 as of June 13 before he proved to be one of baseball's best bargains. That was especially true in 43 of the games while Votto was out, when Ludwick batted .340 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs, and became a dependable cleanup hitter.
"Datdude" does it again
Signed to a six-year, $72.5 million contract extension in April, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips was dependable throughout the lineup while running out of superlatives to describe his Gold Glove Award-level defensive plays. Phillips, who leads all Major League second basemen in RBIs and is second in hitting, proved to be versatile. He began the year leading off, moved to cleanup early on when team production sagged, stepped into the third spot when Votto was out and went back to leading off for the stretch.
Bruce surges, twice
Jay Bruce established a new career high in home runs (33), and he became the only Major Leaguer not named Miguel Cabrera with at least 34 doubles, 33 homers and 96 RBIs this season. Bruce had 10 homers over his first 28 games. Following an early-August benching by manager Dusty Baker while mired in a deep slump, Bruce batted .364 with 12 homers, 29 RBIs and an .859 slugging percentage over his next 26 games.
Can't forget Votto
Before injuring his knee sliding on June 30 at San Francisco and leaving the lineup on July 16, Votto was a major contender for his second NL Most Valuable Player Award. Over a 42-game stretch from May 25-July 15, Votto was batting .389. When he went on DL, he was the league leader in on-base percentage, doubles and walks. All of this came after Votto began the season by signing a 10-year, $225 million contract extension that guarantees he will stay with the Reds through 2023.