Archie Bradley was voted the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher as the Mobile right-hander closed the regular season with six straight wins to finish 12-5 with a 1.97 ERA.
The best pitcher so far in the playoffs, though, has been Birmingham's unheralded Chris Bassitt, who didn't reach Double-A until late July.
Bassitt blanked Mobile for 5 2/3 innings in his second strong postseason start and the visiting Barons got to Bradley early and often en route to an 8-3 victory in the opener of the Southern League Finals on Wednesday night at Hank Aaron Stadium.
"He doesn't usually give up many runs, so I went out with the mind-set that I had to hold them down," Bassitt said.
Cody Puckett hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Bradley was charged with six runs on seven hits before being knocked out in the sixth.
Birmingham finished with 14 hits against the team with the league's best ERA during the regular season. Puckett was 3-for-6 with a double and leadoff man Micah Johnson reached base five times on two hits and three walks.
"The home run got us bumped up and we went from there," Puckett said. "It was big to get a quick lead and win the first game, especially against a pitcher like Bradley."
Meanwhile, Bassitt improved to 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA in the postseason, striking out seven and working out of two bases-loaded jams.
"With the Finals, I was obviously amped up," Bassitt said. "So I wanted to take advantage of that and establish my fastball early. After that, I mixed in my off-speed stuff."
Bassitt, who was combined 11-4 with a 3.08 ERA for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and the Barons, allowed six singles and walked two.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander pitched seven innings and allowed just three hits as the Barons opened the North series with a victory over Tennessee. He struck out nine without issuing a walk in that game.
While Bradley was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Bassitt wasn't selected by the Chicago White Sox until the 16th round that year.
"I have high expectations for myself, so what I have done hasn't surprised me at all," said the former University of Akron pitcher.
Mobile loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth innings, but Bassitt struck out Ryan Court to end the first threat and Dustin Martin to end the second.
Bradley, who defeated Mississippi in the opener of the South Division series, hadn't lost since falling in Birmingham on July 27. The right-hander walked seven in that game and issued four walks in 5 2/3 innings this time as the Barons were again patient at the plate. Bradley struck out just two.
The BayBears ace walked Johnson to open the game and advanced on a wild pitch before Puckett crushed a fastball over the left-field fence. Puckett had 17 homers in the regular season, 15 with the Barons.
"He threw a lot of pitchers to our leadoff hitter, so I was able to time him on deck," Puckett said. "When he fell behind 2-0, I knew he would have to give me a strike and I was fortunate enough to be able to hit it."
Birmingham, which forced Bradley to throw 28 pitches in the first inning, added a run in the fourth as Dan Black, who had led off with a single, knocked the ball loose as he bowled over Mobile catcher Rossmel Perez on Brandon Jacobs' two-out double.
The Barons scored three times in the sixth to break open the game. Tyler Saladino drove in the first run with a triple, then Mike Blanke and Johnson followed with RBI singles.
After Mobile scored twice in the ninth, the BayBears avoided a shutout with three unearned runs in the bottom of the inning as Justin Greene and Ender Inciarte delivered RBI doubles after second baseman Johnson made his second fielding error of the night.
Mobile, which is going for a record-tying third straight championship, eliminated South Wild Card Mississippi in four games, while Birmingham had to go to a fifth game at Tennessee to win in the North.
The team plays again Thursday night in Mobile before shifting to Birmingham on Friday for the rest of the best-of-5 series. The Barons were a league-best 44-26 during the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason at new Regions Field.
Right-hander Chris Beck, who allowed three hits over five scoreless innings in a victory over Tennessee in the North series, will start for Birmingham against left-hander David Holmberg. Holmberg was 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two postseason starts last season, but suffered the BayBears' only loss in the South series while allowing five hits and three runs in six innings against Mississippi.
The teams split the regular-season series, with both taking four of five at home while playing in Birmingham in late July and Mobile in early August. But the BayBears outscored the Barons, 56-34.