Southern League Finals preview

BayBears thinking dynasty, but Barons have other ideas

Prospects Archie Bradley of Mobile and Trayce Thompson of Birmingham headline the SL Finals.

By John Parker / | September 11, 2013 6:00 AM ET

After beating Mississippi in four games -- capped by a 15-0 rout in Game 4 -- Mobile is one step closer to becoming just the second team ever to win three straight Southern League championships.

North Division champion Birmingham, meanwhile, is looking for its first title since 2002 in the first season at its brand new ballpark, Regions Field. The two clubs kick off their best-of-5 Finals series Wednesday night in Mobile.

Mobile BayBears (79-60, South Division champion) vs.
Birmingham Barons (77-63, North Division champion)

How they got here: Mobile beat Mississippi in four games and Birmingham defeated Tennessee in five games in the Southern League semifinals.

Mobile and Birmingham split the season series, 5-5

Game 1 at Mobile, Sept. 11 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Mobile, Sept. 12 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Birmingham, Sept. 13 at TBD
Game 4 at Birmingham (if necessary), Sept. 14 at TBD
Game 5 at Birmingham (if necessary), Sept. 15 at TBD

Though the teams split their season series -- both took four of five at home, playing in Birmingham in late July and Mobile in early August -- the BayBears outscored the Barons, 56-34, thanks to close losses and blowout wins of 13-2, 14-2, and 9-1.

Southern League MVP Marcus Semien was far and away the Barons' most effective hitter in the season series, going 11-for-16 with two homers, five RBIs, nine walks and nine runs scored in just five games. Unfortunately for Birmingham, Semien is missing from the postseason lineup after being promoted to Triple-A.

Birmingham will look to White Sox No. 4 prospect Trayce Thompson to carry the offensive load in the absence of Semien. The 22-year-old outfielder hit just .196/.270/.343 in the second half of the regular season but leads all Southern League hitters with six RBIs in the playoffs.

Nick Evans was the BayBears' top slugger in the season matchup. The 27-year-old third baseman went 14-for-38 (.368) with two homers and 11 RBIs in the 10 games. Evans has been a force for Mobile in the playoffs as well, with six hits and five RBIs in four first-round games.

Though the Barons led the circuit in scoring, on-base percentage and stolen bases -- and boasted the league's top home record -- the BayBears allowed both the fewest hits and fewest runs during the Southern League regular season.

"It will come down to pitching," said Birmingham manager Julio Vinas. "It always does, especially in a short series. If we play good baseball like we've been playing, I think we've got a great chance. This team has a lot of heart.

"Mobile's a really good team, obviously, with a lot of older veteran guys," he said. "We took four out of five from them and then they did the same to us, so we're pretty even there. It's going to be a pretty good series that, like everything else, will just come down to pitching."

The effectiveness of Mobile's starting rotation will be a key for the series: BayBears Archie Bradley, David Holmberg and Andrew Chafin posted three of the top six ERAs in the Southern League, and all three are among the D-backs' top eight prospects.

Bradley, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 Draft, went 12-5 with a 1.97 ERA in 21 Southern League starts (after posting a pair of wins in five April outings with Class A Advanced Visalia) and was named the circuit's Pitcher of the Year. He finished first in the league in wins, second in ERA and was sixth in the Minor Leagues with 162 strikeouts.

The left-handed Holmberg not only ranked fourth in the league with a 2.75 ERA, but he's also a proven veteran of playoff pressure. He helped the BayBears win last season, going 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two postseason starts, and tossed a nine-inning one-hitter to clinch Mobile's first-half division title back in June.

Chafin -- like Bradley a first-round pick in 2011 -- piled up 13 victories in the regular season and finished sixth in the league ERA race at 2.85. And Mobile's No. 4 starter, veteran Bo Schultz, fired six one-hit innings in the BayBears' series-clinching victory over Mississippi in the first round.

Along with Evans, the BayBears are led on offense by 27-year-old outfielder Justin Greene, who captured the league batting title with a .308 average and was named All-Star Game MVP in July. Greene, however, was just 3-for-16 in the first round of the playoffs. He hit .273 against Birmingham during the regular season.

In brief

Welcome back: Skipper Julio Vinas is in his first season with the Barons after managing Class A Kannapolis in 2012 and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in 2011. He's familiar with Birmingham, however -- he played in 102 games for the Barons in 1995, primarily as a catcher, hitting .269/.337/.371. Vinas was a 33rd-round pick by the White Sox in the 1991 Draft.

"It's been fantastic being back here," Vinas said. "I remember the city fondly from when I played and I still have friends here. I already knew Jonathan Nelson, for example -- back then he was an intern and now he's the general manager."

Making his mark: Like Vinas, Mobile manager Andy Green is with the organization that drafted him, in his third season as a skipper and first year in the Southern League. Green, Arizona's 24th-round selection in 2000, played second, third, shortstop and all three outfield positions in parts of four big league seasons and 10 Minor League campaigns. He guided Missoula to the Pioneer League championship last summer.

Threpetition: Mobile is trying to become just the second team to capture three straight Southern League titles. The first, the Montgomery Rebels, won three in a row from 1975-77 (and had previously won in both 1972 and 1973). After 16 years in Montgomery, the Rebels relocated to Birmingham following the 1980 season and became known as the Barons.

John Parker is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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