© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

12/26/11 11:15 AM EST

Reds unable to follow up strong campaign

After 2010 division title, injuries, rotation woes led to subpar '11

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' 2011 season began with high expectations and ended in disappointment.

You couldn't blame a single person in the organization for feeling that way. After all, the Reds could still remember the glow felt from winning 91 games and the National League Central in 2010. They had all of the major components from the roster back to do it again and were the team to beat.

Cincinnati hinted at being in the race early on, but never made a serious charge in the second half. The club finished a distant third in the division with a 79-83 record.

Not good enough, especially for a talent-laden club that expected to repeat.

That didn't mean there weren't high points or memorable moments scattered across the 2011 season. Of all the storylines from the past year, here are the five biggest:

Year in Review
Looking back at 2011
2011 Reds
Reds 2011 stats
Final standings
Hot Stove tracker
MLB Year in Review

5. Bruce's monster May

It seemed like Reds right fielder Jay Bruce could not be cooled off during a robust month of hitting in May. He earned National League Player of the Month honors after batting .342 with 12 home runs, 33 RBIs, 23 runs scored and a .739 slugging percentage. Alas, the Reds did not seize the moment along with Bruce, as the club struggled to a 14-15 record for the month. Bruce also could not sustain consistent numbers the rest of the season, as he batted .217 in June and did not bat above .260 in another month of the 2011 season.

4. Votto signs three-year contract

The Reds allocated a combined $151 million last winter to sign four of its own players to multi-year contracts, including Bronson Arroyo, Bruce and Johnny Cueto. But the contract that drew the most attention was the three-year, $38 million deal signed by first baseman and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto on Jan. 17. While the club and Votto avoided the displeasure of the arbitration process for all three of his eligible years, the deal did not cover any free agent years. And with Votto set to make $9.5 million and $17 million, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty had to frequently deny speculation that the club might trade Votto before the salary escalated. Votto turned in another strong season, as he batted .309 with 29 home runs, 103 RBIs and a league-leading .416 on-base percentage. The 28-year-old also earned his second All-Star Game invite and first NL Gold Glove Award.

3. Cueto becomes the ace

No one on the Reds' pitching staff took a larger leap forward in his career than Cueto. On the heels of signing a four-year, $27 million contract in January, the right-hander went 9-5 with a 2.31 ERA in 24 starts. He often led the NL in ERA and was through his final start -- until a strained lat muscle cut his season short and left him six innings short of qualifying for the title.

Cueto, who also missed the first month with a sore biceps and triceps, changed both his mechanics and his mentality. He developed a Luis Tiant-style delivery in which he turned his back on the hitter, and he also became a more efficient pitcher. While his strikeout totals were down, he threw fewer pitches and induced more groundballs. He lasted seven innings 14 times and eight innings four times.

Cueto, 25, also showed more maturity under adversity. Instead of letting big innings consume him like in past years, he was able to step off the mound and take a breath to regroup. Put it all together, and Cueto developed into a No. 1 starter for the Reds in 2011.

2. Rotation doesn't match the hype

While Cueto excelled in 2011, the same can't be said for Cincinnati's rotation as a whole. What was considered the team's greatest strength proved to be a weakness much of the season, as the rotation's 4.47 ERA ranked 13th in the NL.

Injuries played a part in the shortcomings. Cueto came down with his injury during Spring Training. Homer Bailey also began the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and he suffered a different type of shoulder injury that cost him another month out in June. Arroyo was diagnosed with mononucleosis in Spring Training and lacked his usual velocity most of the season. Arroyo also smashed a club record by allowing 46 home runs, only four shy of the Major League record.

With the vaunted depth tested, other pitchers did not step up immediately. Mike Leake struggled early on and also dealt with an off-the-field incident before being sent to Triple-A Louisville. While Leake would eventually straighten out and lead the team in wins and strikeouts, fellow second-year starter Travis Wood never came close to matching his strong rookie year. Wood had multiple stints in Louisville, as did the biggest disappointment of all -- Edinson Volquez.

Named the Opening Day starter early in camp, Volquez missed spring starts because of a visa issue. During the season, he was 5-7 with a 5.71 ERA in 20 starts. Frustrating for the team were Volquez's first-inning troubles. His ERA in the opening frame was 10.35, and 4.67 the rest of the innings. In 17 of his starts, he allowed the game's first run.

1. Reds acquire Latos from Padres

The Reds' biggest trade of 2011 came well after the season, when young Padres right-hander Mat Latos was acquired in exchange for Volquez and prospects Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal. It was a very emphatic response to the rotation's shortcomings. While the Reds appeared to seriously overpay in this deal, they got a power arm in Latos that can be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter along with Cueto. Besides his arm, Cincinnati also liked Latos for economic reasons. At only 24, he's still one season from arbitration and under club control for four more years. With the Cardinals and Brewers in offseason flux this winter, the Reds are clearly moving with designs to regain control of the NL Central in 2012.

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.