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12/27/10 10:00 AM EST

Return to prominence: '10 a big year for Reds

CINCINNATI -- It took 15 long years, but the Reds in 2010 finally reached a destination they've been seeking.

As National League Central division winners, the Reds got to experience postseason play after going 91-71 and finishing five games ahead of the Cardinals. It was also Cincinnati's first winning season since 2000.

And while the taste of the playoffs was a brief one after being swept by the Phillies in the NL Division Series, the club exuded confidence that it won't be anywhere close to another 15 years before the next playoff berth.

Managed by Dusty Baker, Cincinnati got it done mainly on the backs of its younger players -- like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, Travis Wood and more. The contributions of veterans Scott Rolen, Jonny Gomes, Orlando Cabrera, Bronson Arroyo and Arthur Rhodes were invaluable.

While the Reds weren't the best team in the NL, they were a complete bunch. The offense not only led the league in the Triple Crown categories (hitting, home runs and RBIs), but also was tops in runs scored, hits, total bases, slugging percentage and hitting with runners in scoring position. The defense -- featuring Gold Glove winners in Rolen, Phillips and Arroyo -- was second in fielding percentage and committed an NL-low 72 errors.

Year in Review
Looking back at 2010
MLB Year in Review
Game prospering
Final standings
Statistical leaders

From this successful '10 season, here are the top five story lines that made it interesting to watch:

No. 5: Leake skips Minors

The eighth-overall selection in the '09 First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State, Leake was on the fast track. But few expected it would be as fast as it proved to be. When Leake beat out fellow prospects Chapman and Wood for the rotation's fifth spot out of Reds camp, he became only the 21st drafted player since 1965 to skip the Minors and debut in the Majors. The last starting pitcher to do it was Jim Abbott with the Angels in '89. Despite not being completely healthy after the All-Star break, Leake was 8-4 with a 3.78 ERA as a starter and a big part of the first-half success.

No. 4: Back and forth with the Cardinals

The National League Central race was essentially a two-team fight between Cincinnati and St. Louis. For a Major League-record 101 straight days from May 10-Aug. 18, the two teams held either first or second place -- with there never being more than a three-game lead. That also included 19 lead changes. The battle got salty during the Aug. 9-11 series at Great American Ball Park, where inflammatory media comments by Phillips were the catalyst for a bench-clearing donnybrook. Although the Reds were swept in that three-game series, they caught fire and eventually took first place for good, while the Cardinals faded.

No. 3: Aroldis Chapman

From the moment the Reds shocked baseball with the winning bid of six years for $30.25 million to sign the Cuban defector, the buzz was incessant. A 22-year-old lefty, Chapman already had a reputation for exceeding 100 mph and he proved it with the Reds. The club let him get comfortable in his new country at Triple-A Louisville and eventually converted him from starter to reliever to aid in the pennant chase. On Aug. 31, Chapman made his big league debut -- and, while striking out first batter Jonathan Lucroy, threw a 103-mph pitch. As a late-inning reliever in late September at San Diego, Chapman threw a 105.1-mph pitch to Tony Gwynn Jr. -- the fastest pitch ever recorded.

No. 2: Bruce's bat clinches division

In a moment that will be difficult to forget, Bruce ended 15 years of frustration with one swing. Leading off the bottom of the ninth of a 2-2 game against the Astros on Sept. 28, Bruce slugged a first-pitch fastball from reliever Tim Byrdak to straightaway center field for a thrilling win. The Reds were NL Central champions and earned their first playoff berth since '95.

No. 1: Joey Votto, MVP

Following a big breakout year, Votto won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. He received 31 out of a possible 32 first-place votes and 443 points to easily prevent Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols from winning his third MVP in a row and fourth overall. After an initial snub, Votto also earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, as 13 million fans voted at MLB.com for him to win the Final Vote. The 27-year-old was second in the NL with a .324 average and was third in both home runs, with 37, and RBIs, with 113 -- all career highs. He led the NL with a .600 slugging percentage and .424 on-base percentage. In August, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and became the face of a revitalized franchise.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.