All posts by Michael Rand

Memories of Sid: I was proud to be called ‘Mr. Computer’

My first byline in the Star Tribune came in June 1998, with an official permanent hire date about a year later. Sid Hartman was already well into his legendary status by then – and already a marvel for his age.

“Have you met Sid?” was the foremost question from pretty much anyone I encountered in those early years. It was a trend that didn’t really slow down much for two decades, much like the man himself. I would explain that, yes, I would see him multiple times a week in the office.

He would barrel right past my desk on the way to his actual closed-door office (something the sports editor in our old building didn’t even have), sometimes taking a moment to bark out a nickname-of-the-moment but often with a singular focus of beginning the assembly of the next morning’s column.

“I can’t believe he’s 79,” I would tell people, and they couldn’t either. They always imagined he was 5 or 10 years younger than he was. As the number went up, almost impossibly, the disbelief only grew. “I can’t believe he’s 86. I can’t believe he’s 91. I can’t believe he’s 94. I can’t believe … he’s 100!”

It was a paradox. As most people age, it’s a reminder that they are getting closer to death. As Sid aged, it seemed to signal the possibility that he would, improbably, live forever.

And that’s how you can be stunned to find out that a 100-year-old has died. The news of Sid’s passing Sunday hit hard, even if intellectually it was both an inevitability and came at the end of a singular life filled with enough moments and achievements for 1,000 years on earth.

It also felt strangely incomplete because of the way the last seven months have played out. We were supposed to have a huge birthday celebration for Sid to mark his 100th birthday in mid-March, but the outset of the coronavirus pandemic forced that to be canceled.

At the time, it was hard to fathom that the missed opportunity meant I would never see him again. But I haven’t been in our physical office since March 13, let alone seen my centenarian colleague. I’m sure the dollar he won from me in our wager several years ago – I believed the Vikings would trade Adrian Peterson after the 2014 season and he was adamant they would not – is still taped to his office door with my admission of being wrong scrawled on it.

If there is a particular sadness in this, it is crystallized by his son Chad’s reflection on the toll the last several months have taken on Sid.

“I want to make it clear — he didn’t die from COVID — but COVID took away the enjoyment from his life by making him stay home,” Chad said. “It took away the chance to see the people he liked. It took away his zest, not being able to go four, five different places every day and to laugh, to get on people and have them get on him.”

That was Sid. Full of energy. Inappropriate at times but also remorseful when he realized he had crossed a line.

Early on, he liked to call me “Mr. Pajamas” because I had a certain button-down shirt that reminded him of sleepwear. Maybe it was his subtle way of telling me to dress more professionally, a behavior he modeled with his ever-present sport coat and dress shirt (the latter of which was inevitably stained by press box condiments).

“What’s the hot scoop?” he would bellow at me, and I would try to explain what I was writing about. Inevitably this would take two or three tries – and often would end with his loud but mumbled response that he already wrote about that last week.

“Mr. Computer” was the name he settled on for me in more recent years. “You wouldn’t be anything without the Internet,” he would chide – only to tell me a few seconds later that I should have him on some of the videos I was doing even though he was well into his 90s at that point.

He also took to holding court more than ever in those last couple years in the office. He wanted to make sure we all remembered his stories – as though 21,235 bylined stories wasn’t enough evidence.

Sometimes I would stop and listen. Sometimes I would hustle too much – ducking away after a minute or two to a meeting, an assignment or home to my growing family.

You always imagine there will be another story, another moment.

Maybe it’s enough to learn a lesson and have the memories – and to try to share them, in a tribute of sorts, while wearing pajamas and typing on my computer.

Wagering odds: Timberwolves more likely to trade No. 1 pick than keep it

We are just over a month away from the NBA Draft (Nov. 18), where the Wolves have the No. 1 overall pick for just the second time in franchise history.

The first time they had it in 2015, they wisely chose franchise big man Karl-Anthony Towns. At that time, they were clearly at the start of a long rebuild after winning just 16 games the year before. The duo of KAT and Andrew Wiggins was much-hyped, but major success never materialized.

A single playoff appearance — helped greatly by Jimmy Butler — and a single playoff game victory was quickly forgotten as Butler left town and eventually was followed by Wiggins at last year’s trade deadline.

Five years after the Wolves last had a crack at anyone they wanted in the draft, they are again in an obvious rebuild. But their circumstances are different.

They are trying to build around Towns and D’Angelo Russell, the top two picks from that 2015 draft, and timelines are different when your projected cornerstones are in their mid-20s instead of below legal drinking age.

Combine that with the notion that there is no sure thing at the top of the draft and there emerges the notion that the Wolves might trade the top selection instead of keeping it.

It’s rare for a top pick to be dealt before playing for the team that held the pick; the last time it happened, in fact, was when Wiggins came to the Wolves in 2014.

But this year, it’s a intriguing combination of something rare being perhaps more likely to happen than not — at least according to betting markets.

Online bookmaker Sports Betting Dime this week put the odds of the Wolves trading out of the No. 1 spot at 4 to 5 — better than even money. Adding to the intrigue, the site listed Anthony Edwards (3 to 2), James Wiseman (3 to 1) and LaMelo Ball (7 to 1) as the most likely No. 1 picks — hardly a consensus.

Wolves President Gersson Rosas hasn’t tipped his hand, but clearly all options are on the table. In short, the Wolves are trying to be competitive sooner than later without taking shortcuts. This quote from an interview conducted by Chris Hine in August offers perhaps the most telling crystallization of Rosas’ philosophy.

“For this organization, patience is probably more important than anything because as the Jimmy Butler-Tom Thibodeau experiment showed, the benefit of being all in and getting in the playoffs one year set this organization back,” Rosas said. “I understand the concern with guys going into free agency, but there’s also the unknowns, positive unknowns that it’s not like we’re going to try and tank or lose over the next three or four years. We’re trying to win.”

The No. 1 pick in a no-sure-thing draft will probably never have more value than before it used. For a franchise that believes strongly in analytics and value, that leverage could be all the enticement needed to make a deal.

The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 3; will the Vikings make any moves?

When you are a fan of a 1-4 football team — even if it is one of the best 1-4 teams in history — in the midst of a pandemic, you tend to look for any glimmer of hope to keep you interested.

And while some Vikings fans have hitched onto the optimism that an easier future schedule could produce a chance to get back into the playoff picture, others have moved on to more immediately gratifying fodder: the NFL trade deadline.

We’re less than three weeks away from the deadline — it’s Nov. 3, and yes it’s hilarious and very on-brand that the NFL would not pick any of the surrounding days for that distinction and instead keep it on what happens to be election day this year.

For two consecutive weeks, we’ve been asked (and addressed) on the Access Vikings podcast the subject of whether the Vikings might make any moves (and who might be involved).

On the most recent episode, Andrew Krammer mentioned one interesting player who could be a target in a medium-level move: tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph has been targeted just 10 times in five games this season, though he remains a viable red zone target as evidenced by his acrobatic touchdown catch against Tennessee (his only TD so far this season after getting six last season).

Fellow tight end Irv Smith Jr. had his best game of the season against Seattle, grabbing four catches for 64 yards.

Would a team like New England, which has shown interest in Rudolph in the past, be interested for a mid-to-late-round pick?

I brought up safety Anthony Harris as a possibility as well. While the Vikings have perilous depth behind Harris and Harrison Smith, they did try to trade Harris in the offseason. It’s hard to imagine trading Harris if the Vikings think they can still salvage this season, but what if they lose Sunday and are staring at a likely 1-6 start with Lambeau looming post-bye?

Ben Goessling made the point, though, that the Vikings don’t have a lot of overall tradeable assets because their roster is short on the sort of “middle class” players who are often dealt — productive but not overly expensive, young but experienced. They have a lot of veterans and a lot of inexperienced young players.

For what it’s worth, no Vikings showed up on Bill Barnwell’s list of 13 potential NFL deadline deals. But the ESPN writer noted two names in possible deals with other teams that caught my eye: Sam Darnold and Dwayne Haskins.

Both young QBs might be falling out of favor with their current teams. The Jets could jettison Darnold, the 2018 No. 3 overall pick, and start over in 2021 with another young QB. They are bad enough to win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Washington went through a regime change since picking Haskins No. 15 overall in 2019 and he, too, could be on his way out after an unproductive start.

I’ve become enamored in recent years with both the potential and cost associated with trading for a young QB with upside, even with Kirk Cousins on the roster.

Because the team that drafted the QB would be on the hook for much of the salary cap hit because the signing bonus money sticks to the trading team, each QB could be had for just $2-3 million dollars a year. Haskins has two years left (and a fifth-year option) beyond this season, while Darnold has one plus the option.

At worst, these young QBs would serve as functional backups. At best, they would develop into potential successors to Cousins if his production and that relationship go downhill.

The price for Darnold suggested by Barnwell (a second- and third-round pick) might be too much for a team like the Vikings, but the Haskins cost (a player plus a fourth-round pick) seems like a worthy pursuit. Plus he’s under team control for a year longer and is less expensive because he was a lower pick in the first round.

Maybe that’s the kind of move better suited for the offseason, but it’s also more fun to think about than a 1-4 record right now.

Florida football latest to learn: Don’t tempt fate with coronavirus

The sequence of events is such that even Shakespeare would have a hard time deciding whether it is a comedy, a tragedy or simply history.

This past weekend: University of Florida football coach Dan Mullen declares that he wants to see 90,000 fans in the stands for Florida’s Saturday home game against LSU. “Hopefully that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we passed a law in our state that we can do that,” Mullen said. “We want our students out there cheering us on to give us that home-field advantage.”

Yes, he said that in all sincerity, in a state that had 123 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday alone, surpassing 15,000 lives lost in Florida during this pandemic.

Monday: Mullen holds his program up as a “model” of safety in the coronavirus era, declaring: “I’m really proud of how we’ve handled everything and how safe we’ve been with everything we’re doing and all the precautions we’ve had in place during this time.”

Tuesday: Florida announced that it had “paused” all football related activities after 19 members of the program (players, coaches and/or personnel) had tested positive for the virus.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin used the now-familiar phrase “abundance of caution” to describe the move, but it doesn’t take an abundance when you have that many positive tests. It only takes common sense.

Unfortunately, the supply of common sense has not been equally distributed among sports entities trying to play through this.

The NBA, WNBA and NHL went to a bubble format for various parts of their seasons/postseasons in an attempt to go beyond even an abundance of caution — showing a level of respect for the virus that was rewarded when they were able to complete their seasons in a Covid-free landscape. The NBA and WNBA even did so in Florida at the peak of spread there.

MLB stumbled through its season with outbreaks and on-the-fly scheduling but at least had the sense to keep fans away and create postseason bubbles (at least, um, until they let fans into the Texas playoff bubble).

The NFL is already playing a shell game with its schedule and nearly half its 32 teams have permission to have at least some fans in stadiums.

Within that context, at least the Dolphins have said they are keeping capacity capped at 13,000 even though Florida law says they could go the full Mullen and pack their stadium.

But even the Dolphins and other teams (like the Saints, who are exploring ways to play at LSU’s outdoor stadium) are still tempting fate with half-measures and a rush to get back to “normal” when things are still very much not normal.

There are varying levels of risk tolerance when it comes to Covid, which I can respect. But the common comparison I hear, to the notion of wearing a seat belt and how that was a big fight decades ago, is a false one. That’s an individual choice that has little bearing on public health beyond that person.

Packing a football stadium, as Mullen suggested he wanted, is a risk to anyone who is there and near an infected person — which, chances are, there are a lot of given the spread in Florida.

A football coach lobbying for such a thing might not be taking all the precautions seriously. You can’t draw a straight line between that and 19 positive tests, but you can draw an inference.

And you can draw a conclusion: Tempt fate with the virus, and it’s bound to win.

Vikings aftermath: When the right decisions yield the wrong results

In the aftermath of any close and controversial Vikings loss, there is a lot of ALL-CAPS typing and second-guessing. Even players are left to lament the razor-thin differences between wins and losses.

“One more play, one more yard, one more stop, things like that,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said after the Vikings’ crushing 27-26, last-minute loss at Seattle on Sunday night. “It’s just we’re so close, and that’s probably why it’s so disappointing.”

In a game with so many twists, turns and moments, it can be hard to separate decisions from outcomes. Indeed, this is one of the most challenging thing about Monday morning quarterbacking, so to speak: Are you second-guessing the thought that went into a play … or the execution of the play … or are you just mad that it didn’t work in one particular instance?

In times like this, it can be helpful to be armed with data. Numbers can at least help clarify what went right or wrong because — unlike a fan base with 60 years of baggage and perhaps a few adult beverages in them late on a Sunday — they don’t have feelings.

And hey, maybe you’ll feel like yelling at me instead when I say this: I think the data suggests that Mike Zimmer and his staff made two correct decisions at two critical moments Sunday.

1) Going for a two-point conversion after cutting the deficit to 21-19 with 3:39 left in the third quarter and 2) the bigger (but related) decision to go for a first down on 4th-and-1 from Seattle’s 6 when they were up 26-21 with 2 minutes left.

We discussed both things on our postgame video, and both are great fodder for debate. In the calmer light of day, though, here’s what math and win probability data tells us:

*The conventional wisdom I have stuck in my head is that a team shouldn’t “chase the points” — i.e. go for 2 — after cutting a deficit to two points until the fourth quarter. So I initially thought it was too early for the Vikings to try it even though it was late in the third quarter.

As it turns out: Per FiveThirtyEight, data suggests, “When a team is down 2, it should go for 2 — pretty much any time, but especially in the third quarter and beyond.

In general when a team is down 2 points, going for 1 and making it only increases win probability by 1.8% while going for 2 and making it increases win probability by 8.4%. But what happens if they miss it?

Pro Football Reference lets us get even more specific with the situation. Plugging in all the scenarios to the win probability calculator — including that Seattle was a 7-point favorite — shows the Vikings had a 26.2% chance to win after missing the conversion. They would have had a 30.7% chance to win had they successfully kicked to cut it to 21-20. And a 35.6% chance to win if the two-point try was successful.

It’s a thin margin, but the upside of going for 2 and making it increased their win probability by 4.9% over the expected safe outcome of kicking, and missing it only decreased it by 4.5%. And that’s assuming they would have made the kick — likely, though not a given on a rainy night in Seattle. It was a smart decision based on data.

*That said, the play the Vikings tried — culminating in Kirk Cousins trying to run the ball in out of a shotgun snap and an empty backfield — was not ideal. Cousins has some mobility, but he’s not Russell Wilson. Perhaps something with motion and a rollout, which play to Cousins’ strengths, would have yielded a better result.

And it should be noted that the decision to go for 2 directly impacted the second decision we need to talk about. Had the Vikings gone for 1 and made it, then the rest of the game played out the same, they would have been ahead 27-21 while facing that fourth down at the 2 minute warning.

A field goal at that point would have put the Vikings up by 9 — putting their win probability in the high 90s and forcing the Seahawks to score twice, plus convert an on-side kick in between, to pull the game out.

Instead, of course, Zimmer and the Vikings faced a real dilemma: Kick a field goal and force Seattle to go (in all likelihood) 75 yards for a touchdown and two-point conversion just to tie … or try to make half a yard to essentially seal the game.

Here again we visit the Pro Football Reference win probability calculator and find:

The Vikings’ win probability as they faced 4th-and-1 from Seattle’s 6 with 2 minutes left and a five point lead was 90%.

A field goal would have decreased that slightly to 89.9%, assuming Seattle got the ball at its own 25 down 8 with just under 2 minutes left.

Going for it and making it would have increased the probability to 99%, while getting stopped (the outcome that happened) decreased that to 77.9%.

Given that NFL teams convert roughly 2 of every 3 tries on fourth-and-1 into first downs, the math again was on the Vikings’ side. There was a good chance they were going to essentially seal the game by making a yard, especially since Seattle had just one timeout left.

And that was the only scenario by which they weren’t going to give the ball back to the comeback king and possible future Hall of Famer Wilson, at least with any meaningful chance to win or tie. Maybe if they’re facing more of a Ryan Tannehill type of QB, taking the points would have been a more arguable position.

But regardless of opponent, going for it was the data-driver correct move.

And the yard was there to get. If Alexander Mattison cuts right instead of running into a plugged middle, Zimmer is being lauded today for his guts instead of being lambasted.

Ah, but there’s that emotion again. We were trying to shoo that away to recognize this: Lamenting outcomes is natural. Questioning execution is fair. But second-guessing the decisions?

In two key instances Sunday, Zimmer was right even if both times everything went wrong.

Field goals and fumbles: Vikings lucky last year, unlucky this year

In trying to figure out what to make of the Vikings’ 1-3 start, there are three general possibilities:

*This is a bad team that is destined to win just a handful of games (3-5) this season and is deserving of that mark.

*This is a mediocre team that maybe isn’t quite as bad as it looked the first two weeks but still is headed for a disappointing season (6 or 7 wins).

*This is a team considerably better than it showed early on that could rebound and win at least 8 games and contend for a wild card spot in the expanded NFC playoffs.

I’m inclined to think it’s either the first or second (probably the second) bullet point. But one bit of evidence suggesting maybe it’s No. 3 caught my eye this week.

Sharp Football Analysis took a look at fumble and field goal luck through the first four weeks of this NFL season. Why those two specific things? Because fumble recovery rate (own and opponent) as well as field goal make rate (own and opponent) have a high degree of luck and tend to even out over time.

And the Vikings, so far, have had very bad luck in both areas.

In terms of fumbles, the Vikings are minus-2.3 on their expected recovery rate — second-worst in the league. Out of nine total fumbles for the Vikings and their opponents this season, the Vikings have recovered just two.

They also have (by far) the worst field goal luck in the NFL so far. The Vikings have made about 1 field goal less than expected so far, while opponents have made a whopping 2.59 more than expected in just four games. That’s a net of minus-3.5 field goals (more than 10 points over what would be expected).

Per Sharp Football: The Minnesota Vikings are the biggest outlier here in terms of opposing field goals, both in success and volume. No team has faced more field goal attempts than Minnesota’s 15 and every kick has been successful, including four of at least 50 yards.

Many of those were directly responsible for the Vikings’ third loss this season, a 31-30 defeat to the Titans. Stephen Gostkowski made all six of his field goal attempts, three from at least 50 yards (and two of those in the fourth quarter). If he has even an average day — or if Dan Bailey makes the 49-yarder he missed — the Vikings likely win that game and are 2-2 right now.

So the Vikings could be due for better luck on both fumbles and field goals as the season goes on. The flip side of that, though, is this: the Vikings had good luck in both areas last season. They were plus-9 in fumble recoveries and had a net plus-3.1 field goals go in their favor vs. what was expected.

Maybe they got a little lucky last year, and things are evening out in 2020?

Ex-Gopher WR Tyler Johnson has strong game, first career NFL catches

After putting up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including 86 catches for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior for the 11-win Gophers, Tyler Johnson was a fifth-round pick by Tampa Bay in the 2020 NFL draft.

It felt, frankly, too low for someone with good size (6-2) who had been so productive in a major conference. And on Thursday, Johnson made the most of his first big chance to show off his skills on an NFL field.

Johnson, who was slowed both by a strange offseason and a training camp injury, didn’t get on the field the first two weeks of the season and wasn’t targeted while making his Week 3 debut.

But with the Bucs dealing with major injuries at wide receiver in their Thursday night game with the Bears, Johnson played a major role — and delivered, albeit in a 20-19 loss.

Johnson caught the first four passes of his NFL career, good for a team-high 61 yards. He made his first grab on Tampa Bay’s first drive by finding a soft spot in a zone for 17 yards — delivered, of course, by Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady, who moved to the Bucs from the Patriots in the offseason — to help set up a field goal. You can watch his full highlight reel from the game below.

The most impressive was a 35-yard catch-and-run in the first half during which he absorbed a hit from two Bears defenders over the middle, stayed on his feet, broke another tackle and moved all the way inside the Chicago 10 yard line to set up a touchdown.

He wasn’t targeted on Tampa Bay’s final failed drive, when the Bucs turned the ball over on downs to fall by one point. But it was still an impressive game for former Minneapolis North and Gophers standout.

“I was just going out there and playing football, man,” Johnson told reporters after the game. “I give a lot of credit to the guys in the room because they have been taking me under their wing since I got here.”

Wild GM Bill Guerin runs his first draft like the anti-Rick Spielman

Owing to two separate but strange circumstances, Bill Guerin had been in his job as Wild GM for more than 13 months but had yet to oversee a draft until this week:

He took over in August 2019 after Paul Fenton was unexpectedly fired late in the offseason after overseeing the June draft; and this year’s draft was pushed back to October because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

One draft is a slim body of work, but the initial impression is this: Guerin is a GM cut from the same mold as Vikings GM Rick Spielman in that he likes to wheel-and-deal on draft day. But at least in his first draft, Guerin proved to be the anti-Spielman in his approach to pick trading.

Guerin made three trades, and all three involved moving up into higher draft positions: Dealing Luke Kunin and the No. 101 pick for Nick Bonino, the No. 37 and No. 70 picks; turning around and swapping the No. 70 pick and No. 132 for No. 65; and dealing a couple of late picks (163 and 194) for No. 146.

In running the Vikings’ drafts for the past dozen years — and in particular the last several since he was promoted to general manager in 2012 — Spielman has generally done the opposite. In the 2020 draft, he amassed a record 15 picks, often by trading down to stockpile them (including dealing the No. 25 overall pick for No. 31 and two other lower picks and swapping No. 105 overall for four lower picks.

Spielman has earned his reputation for making trades — often in that direction. Over The Cap analyzed drafts from 2011 to 2019 (starting with the implementation of the rookie wage scale) and found that Spielman made a whopping 33 trades in those nine drafts. Of those trades, 24 of them involved trades down while just nine were moves up.

Which approach is more successful? Guess it depends on who you ask — and who you draft.

The Vikings have hit on some late round gems and have been in the playoffs three of the last five years. In that Over The Cap analysis of NFL drafts, Bill Belichick was another decisionmaker who was found to trade down the overwhelming majority of the time (22 down, 9 up) during that span. The Patriots have done OK for themselves.

On the flip side, the Saints’ Mickey Loomis has made 10 trades in that time period — all of them up. Those premium picks have helped them to a 37-11 record over the past three seasons.

Spielman generally gets better overall value than he gives up, as illustrated by his performance in several value charts amassed by Daily Norseman from the 2020 draft.

If we look at one commonly used NHL draft pick value chart, Guerin lost value in his two true pick swaps (the trade involving Kunin and Bonino is harder to gauge).

So the answer to my own Twitter question, “Bill Guerin and Rick Spielman are each given a dollar’s worth of random coins. Who ends up with the most money after they are done trading it back and forth to each other?” is probably different than a lot of your humorous replies.

I think Spielman probably winds up with the most money, executing enough swaps where he gives up a quarter and gets three dimes in return.

But in real life — and in the draft — those dimes aren’t worth as much if you can’t spend them all in the same place. (Or maybe think of it this way: Would you rather have $100 to spend at one restaurant or $35 to spend at three different restaurants? You know, assuming it’s safe to eat at any of those places).

Spielman is betting on volume to unearth good classes. Guerin is betting on his ability (and that of Judd Brackett, head of amateur scouting) to identify players they really want and to execute trades guaranteed to land those players, even if it means fewer chances to make picks.

That’s how you have one GM wind up with 15 picks and another with just five, even though both drafts are seven rounds.

Which one was most successful? Let’s meet back here in 2023 to sort out the answer.

33 years ago tonight, the Twins embarked on a World Series run

In early October 1987, the Twin Cities became a Twins town for the first time in a long time.

The Vikings were enmeshed in the 1987 NFL labor strife and were about to lose three consecutive games while their replacement players did the work. The North Stars were in the beginning stages of an awful season in which they would win just 19 games. The Gophers football team was about to take a promising 5-0 start and run it into the ground with four straight losses. The Timberwolves, Lynx and Minnesota United? They did not exist.

But the Twins? On Oct. 7, 33 years ago Wednesday night, they played in the postseason for the first time in 17 years. And nobody would have guessed it at the time, but their 8-5 victory over Detroit that night was the beginning of a wild ride that culminated in the Twins’ first World Series title.

Some nuggets from the time:

*The Twins scored 34 runs in defeating the favored Tigers 4 games to 1 in the ALCS. So in those five games, they scored more runs than the Twins have scored in their 15 most recent postseason games (33 runs combined, all losses).

*Between Oct. 7 (playoff opener) and Oct. 25 (Game 7 of the World Series), the Twins won eight games. The Vikings, Gophers football and North Stars won a combined four games.

*The Twins had home field advantage for the ALCS, which I did not remember. I knew they rotated between leagues as to which got home field for the World Series back then. I did not realize that until 1998 home field advantage also alternated in the league championship series.

It’s absolutely bonkers to me that a team that won 13 fewer games (Twins had 85, Tigers had 98) was given home field advantage, but the Twins used it to great effect. They went 2-0 at the dome against the Tigers (Games 1 and 2), then won 2 of 3 in Detroit. The Twins of course then went 4-0 at home against the Cardinals at home in the Series, where they again were the inferior regular-season team (St. Louis went 95-67 that year, 10 games better than the Twins).

It was quite the reward for a team that went 56-25 at home on the bouncy Metrodome carpet and 29-52 on the road.

And it’s a good reminder that the home field advantage — at least in the postseason — the Twins used to enjoy has completely evaporated. Not only have they lost 18 consecutive playoff games overall, but they have lost 13 consecutive playoff games at home (eight at the dome, five at Target Field).

The last Twins home playoff win? Oct. 8, 2002 in Game 1 of the ALCS. Joe Mays threw eight innings in a 2-1 win. That was 18 years ago Thursday.

Josh Donaldson had a lot to say on Twitter about umpires, shifts

Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, who missed the two-game playoff sweep last week with a calf injury and unfortunately like his Twins teammates now has a lot of time on his hands, spent some of it on Twitter Tuesday espousing some big opinions about MLB umpiring and teams that employ infield shifts.

On umpiring, Donaldson had an interesting back-and-forth with Trevor Plouffe — just a current Twins third baseman and former Twins third baseman, both No. 24 here, chopping it up — about what they were seeing during Tuesday’s games.

Plouffe tweeted: “I like most umpires. I really do. But they aren’t held accountable at all and have as much job protection as a Supreme Court justice.”

Donaldson replied to him with this: “It’s embarrassing. It’s tough to watch any game. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. This isn’t high school where you can say that’s too close to take. As a MLB hitter our job is to take close pitches that are out of zone.”

The first point shouldn’t be a big surprise. Donaldson was ejected from a September game after disagreeing with a strike call, hitting a home run and subsequently spreading dirt on home plate. When he spoke about it a couple days later, Donaldson had this to say about umpiring:

[If] the umpire consistently isn’t doing [his] job correctly, that’s affecting our careers, that’s affecting our success. At the end of the day, there’s no reprimand, no accountability for the guys that are making the decision. As a matter of fact, they don’t care. They don’t care at all, most of them. They just want to get the game over with, for the most part, and it’s pretty sad because guys are making six figures a year and there’s no accountability.”

On the subject of shifts, Donaldson’s take was perhaps more intriguing. He wrote, in two separate tweets:

Shifts in MLB playoffs are continuing to hurt teams!! To further clarify, pitchers are getting hurt because of these shifts. Hitters are taking advantage of it. Love to see it.

Of note: The Twins gave up a handful of big hits to the Astros during their series last week that likely would have been outs if not for a shift being employed — keying rallies and ultimately leading to hard-to-come-by runs in 4-1 and 2-1 wins.

Based on the Twins’ increasing implementation of analytics — which value infield shifts as a means of taming offenses — it’s no surprise that they are among the teams that use them most often. In 2020, per Baseball Savant, the Twins used an infield shift — defined as having three fielders on the same side of second base — 41.3% of the time, the seventh-most out of 30 teams.

Donaldson, a hitter with good bat control, probably sees shifts as an opportunity for easy hits. But not every player is as adept at beating them — and a short series with a few glaring examples of the Astros beating the Twins’ shift, whether purposely or accidentally, does not constitute a referendum on the idea overall.

Perhaps Donaldson was more frustrated by his teammates’ inability to make the Astros pay for their shifting? Houston shifted even more than the Twins this season — 44.1% of the time, fifth-most — but they managed just two runs (both on Nelson Cruz extra-base hits) in the series.

Whatever the case, both the umpire critique and the thoughts on shifts will be good to remember when the Twins resume play in 2021.