CINCINNATI -- Although the Reds were regarded by many as a preseason favorite to win their division, and finished first in the National League Central by a wide margin, it was a journey filled with adversity.
Leadership took on added importance as times got tough. It was on this front in 2012 that Reds manager Dusty Baker had one of the best years of his 19-season career in a dugout.
On Tuesday, Baker came in second in NL Manager of the Year voting conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The Nationals' Davey Johnson was the winner after placing first on 23 of the 32 ballots, with a total of 131 points. Baker was next with 77 points, including five first-place votes while the Giants' Bruce Bochy finished third with 61 points and four first-place votes. Points are awarded with the 5-3-1 tabulation system.
2012 NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR VOTING
Voting results for NL Manager of the Year, conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America
Baker, 63, won NL Manager of the Year honors three times previously for the Giants in 1993, 1997 and 2000. The last and only Reds skipper to receive the award was Jack McKeon in 1999.
This past season, the Reds finished with a 97-65 record while winning their second NL Central title in the last three years.
The season began with three top relievers getting injured during Spring Training, including closer Ryan Madson being lost for the year with a torn elbow ligament. During the season, top hitter and first baseman Joey Votto needed left knee surgery and missed six weeks.
Under Baker, Cincinnati responded to Votto's injury by improving on the field as it went 32-16 minus the 2010 NL MVP. The team, which had a one-game division lead over the Cardinals when Votto went down July 15, had expanded it to eight games upon his return.
At one point, the Reds won 22 of 25 games to take control of the NL Central for good.
"I really enjoy playing for Dusty. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him," Votto said in September.
Cincinnati seemed to corner the market on tense games, with an NL-leading 31 one-run victories while being second in the league with 44 come-from-behind wins. One of the team's finest moments of the season came on July 19 when it rallied from a 6-0 deficit against the D-backs for a 7-6 victory.
The Reds' rotation had four starters pitch 200 innings and five starters make 30 starts during the season. No one from the starting five missed a start during the regular season because of injury. And despite the loss of Madson, Nick Masset and Bill Bray, the Reds' bullpen had the best ERA in the Majors.
One key decision that helped the Reds came on May 20, when Baker moved Aroldis Chapman from a setup role to become the team's closer. Chapman responded by notching 38 saves and often providing shutdown ninth-inning relief.
Baker missed 11 games in September after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. During his time in a Chicago hospital, he suffered a minor stroke but was healthy enough to return for the final three games of the regular season.
Cincinnati lost a heartbreaking five-game NL Division Series vs. the Giants in the postseason, but all BBWAA voting was completed before the playoffs began.
After the Reds' postseason exit, the team re-signed Baker to a two-year contract extension through the 2014 season with hopes he can finally get his first World Series ring as a manager.
Bill McKechnie, Sparky Anderson and Baker are the only Reds managers to ever lead the franchise to multiple postseason berths. Since joining the Reds before the 2008 season, Baker has a record of 419-391 (.517) and two division titles in the last three seasons. Overall, his 1,581 wins over 19 seasons with the Giants, Cubs and Reds have him ranked 19th all-time and second among active skippers.