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Offense can't produce in first season under Price

Cueto's 20-win year leads strong staff, but Reds unable to make playoff run

CINCINNATI -- Although they changed managers after last season, the Reds felt they had a strong enough roster to not only contend for the National League Central, but be a factor in the postseason. After all, they had been to the playoffs in three of the previous four years.

How mistaken that proved to be in a 2014 season that was filled with disappointment and unfulfilled expectations.

"In large part, if you go into that room ... there would be no one there that would say, 'You know what? We overachieved,' or that, 'We played exactly to our ability.' There is an overriding feeling that we have a better team than is represented by our win-loss record," said Reds manager Bryan Price, who replaced Dusty Baker. "We have left winnable games on the field and walked away with losses."

Injuries to key parts of the roster certainly tested the team's depth this season. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey were only some of the players that spent extended time on the disabled list.

But that doesn't let the Reds off the hook for falling well short of their goal. Every team deals with injuries, and the special teams endure and overcome.

The offense struggled to score runs frequently and seemed to dry up altogether after the All-Star break. On five different occasions, opposing pitchers took no-hitters into the seventh inning. One night -- on May 29, Arizona's Josh Collmenter pitched a three-hit shutout but faced the minimum 27 batters in one of the season's lowest points for the Reds.

"Some of the injuries, the health, are a big part of the struggles here. We also have to do the little things better," Bruce said. "We have the ability to be a winning team and a championship-caliber team, but I think the little things are what separate the best teams from the good teams."

Even when they were playing, the big three run producers -- Votto, Phillips and Bruce -- did not produce anywhere close to their track records would indicate. Outside of Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier, no one else stepped up to fill the large void.

"What I'm going to choose to take away from this year the most is the emergence of Devin and Todd as the players they've become," Bruce said.

While the starting rotation, led by Johnny Cueto, was strong most of the season and able to withstand the Spring Training loss of Latos, the front end of the bullpen struggled to bridge the gap between starters and the back-end duo of Jonathan Broxton and Chapman.

Nevertheless, the Reds were very much in the NL Central race with the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates during the first half. They departed for the All-Star break at 51-44 and were a mere 1 1/2 games out of first place.

"I just don't think you can find in the coaches' room, manager's office or clubhouse anybody here that would agree we didn't have enough talent to at least be competitive in the division in the second half," Price said. "And we haven't been competitive in our division at all since the All-Star break."

Put it all together, and it was a challenging first season as a manager for Price.

Record: 76-86, fourth place in NL Central

Defining moment: On July 18-20, the Reds came out of the All-Star break flat, and they lost the first seven games and first four series of the second half. That included two walk-off defeats and being held to two runs or less in five of them games. A 1 1/2-game deficit in the standings was six games by July 30, and they never got closer to four games back after Aug. 7.

What went right: Led by Cueto, the rotation was often as good as any in the National League. Bailey turned it around after a poor April. Mike Leake reached 200 innings for the first time and Alfredo Simon stepped in for Latos and became a deserved All-Star for a very strong first half. ... Rookie Billy Hamilton proved to be largely as advertised in the big leagues. ... Frazier stepped in as an offensive producer, became an All-Star and reached career highs in homers, RBIs and steals, and he was only the third third baseman in club history to hit at least 20 homers with 20 stolen bases. He also played outstanding defense. ... Mesoraco rewarded the Reds' trust in making him the regular catcher by breaking out offensively in an All-Star season and made improvements defensively and in working with the pitching staff. ... Shortstop Zack Cozart had a tremendous year defensively, and he is worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration.

What went wrong: The biggest loss amid of all the team's injuries, Votto missed most of the season with a distal strain of his left quadriceps. Timetables for his return were mysterious throughout the year. Even when he could play, it was clear he lacked power at the plate. ... It wasn't just that the Reds lacked offense, they were the worst hitting team in the Majors during the second half while scoring the least runs with the lowest total hits, on base and slugging percentages. Rushed back from left knee surgery in May when the team needed hitting, Bruce never caught fire at the plate and called 2014 "the most embarrassing year of my life." ... The bullpen -- which had strong depth last season -- often was a liability, especially on the front end. J.J. Hoover tied a club record for relievers with 10 losses and set a new one by losing all 10 in a row. Logan Ondrusek also was prone to walks and being knocked around.

Biggest surprise: It's certainly not a shock that closer Chapman put away hitters with triple-digit velocity and racked up strikeouts and saves. But what was stunning this season was that Chapman did it while coming back remarkably fast from what could have been a tragic incident -- being struck in the face by a line drive. He sustained fractures above his left eye and nose and had a metal plate inserted in his head. Chapman was back by May 10 looking no worse for the wear, and he not only showed he could still bring the heat, but also some devastating secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. The left-hander also established a new Major League record for relievers by recording at least one strikeout in 49 straight games.

Hitter of the year: Mesoraco. Despite two stints on the disabled list, he emerged as one of the league's best-hitting catchers and gave the club some needed punch. He hit the most homers for a Reds catcher since Johnny Bench in 1980. Mesoraco's three grand slams equal the club's single-season record.

Pitcher of the year: Cueto. The leader or among the NL leaders in every key category for pitchers, he would be top NL Cy Young Award contender if not for the special year by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Cueto's year has been special in a historical sense for the Reds. He is only the third pitcher in franchise history and the first since 1965 to collect at least 18 wins and 220 strikeouts in a season (he finished with 20 and 242). Cueto also earned a well-deserved nod for the NL All-Star team.

Rookie of the year: Hamilton. Although it was not a perfect all-around season, Hamilton handled himself well at the plate for a first full season in the big leagues. He led all NL rookie hitters in hits, runs, RBIs, multihit games, doubles, extra-base hits and, of course, stolen bases as he often caused havoc on the basepaths. A very pleasant development was also that Hamilton played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, often making spectacular plays with his speed, glove and arm.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Mike Leake, Billy Hamilton, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Jonathan Broxton, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Joey Votto, Alfredo Simon, Mat Latos