CINCINNATI -- The Reds proved in 2007 they weren't as good as they originally thought, nor were they as bad as they played during the first half.
It still adds up to a 12th consecutive season with no playoffs and seven straight sub-.500 seasons after finishing 72-90.
A contending 2006 season raised the bar for this season. Yet it didn't take long for everything to spiral out of control. By July 1, Cincinnati had a Major League-worst 31-51 record, and Jerry Narron was ousted as manager.
"There were high expectations for a reason," left fielder Adam Dunn said. "We obviously didn't play up to them or our capabilities. That's why our record is what it is."
General manager Wayne Krivsky unconventionally bypassed someone from the coaching staff and named advance scout Pete Mackanin as interim manager. It worked well. A former interim manager of the Pirates in 2005, Mackanin came in with a lighter mood and an easier touch.
The Reds went 41-39 after Mackanin took over July 3, which makes him a leading candidate for the permanent job.
"As far as I'm concerned, I didn't have any preconceived notions," Mackanin said. "That's how I chose to look at it. I did what I wanted to do. I had no specific purpose other than to manage the way I want to manage."
The players responded to Mackanin and didn't play like they had already written off the rest of the season.
"It just loosened up a tight atmosphere," closer David Weathers said. "Also, all the pressure was off when you're 20 games under .500."
Part of a National League Central Division where 85 wins was enough for the Cubs to finish first, Cincinnati's climb to respectability in 2008 doesn't have to be Everest-like.
A good core base of younger talent emerged with players like Brandon Phillips, Josh Hamilton and Edwin Encarnacion joining veteran strengths like Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr.
A Rule 5 Draft player who missed most of the last four years with drug problems, Hamilton was the feel-good story of the season and then backed it up on the field. The outfielder showed he still had five-tool talent, but injuries frequently kept him out of the lineup and hurt his Rookie of the Year chances.
Building from a breakout 2006, Brandon Phillips was a 30-30 player with 30 home runs and 32 stolen bases. Encarnacion recovered from an early Triple-A demotion to become a solid contributor. With utility player Ryan Freel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez missing a lot, outfielder Norris Hopper and infielder Jeff Keppinger took advantage and helped the team.
The club must decide whether to pick up a $13 million club option on Dunn, who deserves credit for driving in a career-high 106 RBIs while hitting 40 homers for the fourth straight season. Griffey, who will enter the final guaranteed year of his contract next season, played 144 games. He was injury free most of the way, and hit 30 homers while making the adjustment to right field.
The biggest shortcoming was pitching, something Krivsky should make his highest priority this winter.
From the rotation, only 16-game winner Aaron Harang delivered season-long consistency. Harang was back among league leaders in victories, innings and strikeouts. Bronson Arroyo endured a first-half swoon and a 10-game winless streak before improving in the second half. After that, nine different pitchers accounted for the back three spots, including the entire rotation from Triple-A Louisville.
With the free agent market expected to be barren of top-shelf starters, the Reds might have to part with good players to trade for starters. Inside the organization, top prospect Homer Bailey should challenge for a spot after debuting this season to mixed results. Johnny Cueto rocketed through three levels of the farm system and could be worthy of a shot.
The bullpen had the league's worst ERA and was among the leaders in blown saves. It will need upgrading if the Reds want to contend.
Weathers was the only dependable reliever all season. There was a nice surprise in rookie Rule 5 Draft pick Jared Burton, who emerged in the second half as the primary setup man for Weathers after a skittish first half.
"He was outstanding as an eighth-inning guy, which the team has searched for all year," Mackanin said.
The Reds will have to become more consistent to look like a playoff team next year, because they didn't play like one in 2007. They played well against good opponents and badly against the rest. The record was nearly even vs. teams with .500 records or better, but well below .500 vs. losing teams. They were also just under .500 vs. NL Central rivals.
"That's something [that comes with] with preparation and concentration on a daily basis," Weathers said.
This season, the club had just one winning road trip and went 33-48 on the road. Yet, the Reds won more series than they lost in the second half and improved on a division deficit that was at 17 games on July 1.
"We finally put it together at the end," Phillips said. "It stinks that we didn't correct our negatives earlier."