Rotation picks up slack
Many baseball success stories begin with quality starting pitching, and the Reds are no different as their rotation has been the rock that's compensated for the team's shortcomings elsewhere. Cincinnati's rotation is second in the NL in ERA and first in strikeouts among its entire staff. Even with ace Johnny Cueto on the disabled list for three stints, others stepped up. Three pitchers -- Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo -- should be over 200 innings when the season ends, and Mike Leake broke out with a career high in wins and innings. Bailey even delivered his second no-hitter within 10 months against the Giants on July 2. And rookie Tony Cingrani established himself as Major League-ready with some electric outings in Cueto's place.
Choo fills leadoff spot
Acquired from the Indians in a three-way trade in December, Shin-Soo Choo represented the Reds' "going for it" intentions in the offseason -- especially since Cincinnati parted with a lot for a player who will be a free agent at season's end and possibly tough to re-sign. Choo was also moved to the unfamiliar position of center field, but the reason he was brought in was to fill what had long been a black hole at the leadoff spot. Choo proved he could get on base, as he is second in the NL in on-base percentage. He established a new club record for hit-by-pitches, also kept his power and led all leadoff hitters in home runs by a wide margin.
Getting on base at elite level
Choo's on-base prowess was surpassed by only one NL player -- his own teammate, Joey Votto. Choo and Votto are set to become the first teammates to finish one-two in their own league in OBP since the 2005 Yankees tandem of Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez and the first in the NL since the 1985 Dodgers duo of Pedro Guerrero and Mike Scioscia. Not a coincidence, the Reds are second in the NL in runs scored, with Choo ranking second and Votto third. Both enabled Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to become the first Cincinnati teammates to notch 100 RBIs since 1977.
Bruce's unheralded power
When you've hit 30 home runs with more than 100 RBIs, it's hard to have done anything quietly, but Bruce perhaps quietly powered to the top as the team's MVP and should also be rewarded with NL Most Valuable Player Award votes. If Bruce can get to 45 doubles, he'd be only the 46th player in Major League history with a season of 45 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs. The only other Reds player to do it was Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
The deep, dominating 'pen
The stat sheet will say the Reds' bullpen ERA is in the middle of the pack in the NL after it led in this category last season. But there were several breakout pitchers from this group, which had to overcome the injuries that kept primary setup men Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall out for most of the season. Sam LeCure showed he was fearless in any situation and could make the big pitch to strand runners. J.J. Hoover overcame early struggles and enjoyed a 26 1/3 scoreless-innings stretch. After also being knocked around early on, lefty Manny Parra assumed Marshall's role well, discovered an offspeed pitch and revived his fortunes. Alfredo Simon also elevated his role from mop-up man to key middle reliever able to go multiple innings. Of course, Aroldis Chapman was generally reliable to put a bow on the games.
Another classic Votto season
Votto's power and RBI numbers were down this year, partly because of his selectivity and approach and because pitchers were wary of pitching to him. But he could, and should, still garner NL MVP Award votes based on the big picture. Votto leads the NL in on-base percentage, walks and intentional walks -- which enabled those behind him to drive him in. He will play in all 162 games, and Votto's presence in the lineup has been paramount to helping Cincinnati this season.
Phillips' shift to cleanup
Slated to be the Reds' No. 2 hitter in the lineup behind Choo when the season started, Phillips didn't last long there: one game. Manager Dusty Baker was forced to improvise when cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick separated his shoulder on Opening Day and needed surgery. Into the fourth spot went Phillips, who drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career. Defensively, he made another bid for a Gold Glove Award with a frequent array of showstopping plays.
Latos develops into an ace
As previously mentioned, Latos stepped into Cueto's void and helped Cincinnati, but he also showed he is one of the premier young starting pitchers in baseball. Coming off last season's career year, Latos not only cracked 200 innings again, he entered Wednesday's start with a career-high-tying 14 wins while allowing three runs or fewer in 22 of his 31 starts.
Catchers' varying qualities
After a rough rookie year, Devin Mesoraco made significant improvements offensively, defensively and with the pitching staff. Mesoraco caught seven of the staff's 17 shutouts as he upgraded his skills behind the plate. Ryan Hanigan endured injuries and never got going offensively, but he remained a sound game-caller. Just like last year, he was also behind the plate for Bailey's second no-hitter.
Baker runs show with consistency
Baker is frequently maligned by sabermetricians and social media for his old-school ways of using sacrifice bunts and going by the book (like most managers) in not using Chapman -- his best reliever -- in higher-leverage situations than the ninth inning. But how many Reds managers since the Sparky Anderson years can say they've led their team to the playoffs three times in four years? Like last season, Baker and his coaching staff had to hold the team together amid key injuries and slumps. They've been rewarded with another 90-plus-win season and another crack at the playoffs.