Rebuilding Reds made strides in second half

With a healthy roster, Cincinnati went 36-37 after All-Star break

December 20th, 2016

CINCINNATI -- The Reds weren't thinking about postseason aspirations in 2016, but they did want their rebuilding efforts to make forward progress. That glimmer of optimism eventually came, but not until some painful struggles on the field.

Amid injuries and poor performance, the Reds were 32-57 at the All-Star break. But after some players returned healthy, and others with improved play, Cincinnati finished one game under .500 in the second half at 36-37. It earned manager Bryan Price the opportunity to continue with a one-year contract extension with a club option.

:: 2015 Year in Review | 2016 Outlook ::

"There was a period of time in April and May where we weren't winning many games and these guys were playing their tails off," Price said at season's end. "And we were losing in similar fashion. We were scoring a lot of runs and giving up a lot of runs. Or not scoring any runs and giving up a lot of runs. Our pitching wasn't very good.

"Those guys, to their credit, just stayed locked in. You hope there is help on the way, but we realized that there really wasn't. The help we were going to get was going to come from our own system, so it was going to be rookies. These guys -- it's a cliché -- kept their nose to the grindstone and continued to go out there and play hard and prepare hard. I admired that a great deal. That to me is the highlight of the season."

Some of the reinforcements came in the form of familiar faces. galvanized the rotation upon his June return from an oblique injury. , who was the Opening Day starter in DeSclafani's place, returned from a shoulder injury and joined in providing some bullpen stability. overcame a slow start and showed in the second half he can be a dynamic leadoff hitter, while young players like , and developed with promise.

Here are five key storylines from 2016 -- featuring the good, the bad and the in-between:

5. Dubious records fall

Great American Ball Park has been known as a home run haven since it opened in 2003, but the 2016 Reds were the most prolific yet at surrendering the long ball. The pitching staff's 258 homers allowed smashed the Major League single-season record of 241 held by the 1996 Tigers. Dan Straily tied with for the National League lead with 31 allowed, and Finnegan gave up 29. The bullpen let up 26 homers versus its first batter faced in a game, and 103 overall, that broke the single-season record of 92 by the 1964 Kansas City A's.

Speaking of the bullpen -- which led the Majors in home runs allowed, runs allowed, walks allowed and batters hit by pitches -- Reds relievers set a Major League record in April and May with 23 consecutive games with at least one run given up, breaking the mark of 20 previously held by the 2013 Rockies bullpen.

4. Rotation struggles

Much of the projected rotation opened the season on the disabled list and several of the replacements did not fare well. Reds starters provided the fewest innings pitched in the Majors last season. Besides DeSclafani going down late in Spring Training, the rotation also lost Lorenzen, Iglesias, and , and did not return as hoped from Tommy John surgery.

Price was forced to start 15 different pitchers in 2016. The return of free agent to eat innings backfired big time before he went down with a shoulder injury. Prospects like were hit hard, and after a couple of promising spot starts, encountered command trouble. Finnegan, in a big league rotation for the first time, endured numerous ups and downs but got credit for his competitive fire and has something to build on for 2017.

3. Straily a nice surprise

But one unexpected pitcher -- Straily -- certainly did his part every fifth day.

Straily was a waiver claim when he joined the Reds after Spring Training, giving him his third different club in one week. Initially used in long relief, he emerged as the team's best starter. The 27-year-old went 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 34 games, including 31 starts, while working 191 1/3 innings. That included going 10-2 with a 3.10 ERA over his final 15 starts. He was the team leader in wins and innings, both career bests. And although he gave up 31 homers, 24 were solo shots.

2. DuvAll Star

Acquired from the Giants for pitcher in 2015, went to Spring Training just trying to earn a roster spot. Duvall did that but opened the season in a left-field platoon with . By the end of April, Schebler was struggling while Duvall took off and never looked back to secure the everyday job.

Duvall batted .241 with a .795 OPS, 33 home runs, 31 doubles and 103 RBIs in 150 games and was named to the NL All-Star team for the first time. Formerly a corner infielder who played the outfield sparingly, the 28-year-old was a pleasant surprise in the field and was a NL Gold Glove Award finalist. Besides recording eight assists, he ranked first by Fangraphs among NL left fielders with a 10.2 ultimate zone rating and second with 16 defensive runs saved.

1. What a rebound

Reds first baseman had his share of slow starts, including a pedestrian 2015 first half. But this past season, even he was frustrated to see he was batting .213 on May 31. Beginning June 1, the turnaround came and Votto reclaimed his perch as one of the game's best hitters as he finished the year batting .326/.434/.550 with 29 home runs and 97 RBIs.

Not only did Votto lead the NL in on-base percentage, but he showed the power and run-producing skills that made him the 2010 NL MVP. He batted .408 after the All-Star break, making him the first player since in '04 to bat .400 in the second half.

"Even the outs, there was a period there where he wasn't getting as many hits but everything he hit was on the barrel -- a liner to second, a liner to center, a liner to left," Price said. "The consistency in which he hits the ball on the barrel is like I haven't seen before."