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Rockies’ end-of-season infield analysis: When Trevor Story books, who plays shortstop?

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Rockies’ end-of-season infield analysis: When Trevor Story books, who plays shortstop?

Editor’s note: Third of a series looking ahead to the Rockies of 2022. Today: the infield.

The Rockies have been playing musical chairs in their infield for three years and that trend will continue in 2022.

Just three years ago, the Rockies were playing in the National League division series with Nolan Arenado at third base, Trevor Story at shortstop and D.J. LeMahieu at second. It was a dream infield. But LeMahieu, spurned by the Rockies, signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season. Arenado forced his way out of Colorado and was traded to St. Louis in February. And now Story is poised to become a free agent, with high hopes of landing a big salary with a playoff contender.

The exodus of those three stars left big holes pn the diamond and forced the Rockies to make big decisions, with more to come.

Brendan Rodgers wants to move over from second base and replace Story at short, but that’s not a sure thing. Will the Rockies add a shortstop during the offseason? It’s possible.

Ryan McMahon is a Gold Glove candidate at third base, but he also shines at second. If Rodgers moves to short and McMahon moves to second, who’s on third?

Two positions, at least, are filled and offer intriguing potential. C.J. Cron, who recently signed a two-year, $14.5 million deal, gives Colorado the power at first base that it’s been lacking. Elias Diaz was the club’s most-improved player in 2021 and he looks like the catcher the Rockies have been searching for all these many years.

Following is a breakdown and grades for the performance of each of the Rockies’ infielders, with a forecast for their 2022 season:

Solid starters

C Elias Diaz (.246 avg., .774 OPS, 18 HRs, 44 RBIs)

On June 1, Diaz was hitting .123 with one home run, a .191 on-base percentage and .376 OPS. From that point on, he hit .283 with a .896 OPS and 17 homers. Plus, he played solid defense behind the plate. His 42.1% caught-stealing percentage ranked second in the majors and he improved as a game-caller. For a change, the Rockies will head into a season without a major question behind the plate.

Grade: B-plus

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Atlanta lights up Timberwolves from deep as Minnesota drops third straight

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Atlanta lights up Timberwolves from deep as Minnesota drops third straight

The Timberwolves seem to have a clear matchup problem — elite shooting teams light them up from deep.

Much like Charlotte did last week, Atlanta chowed down on a feast of open triples Monday at Target Center, going 25 for 49 from 3-point range en route to a 121-110 victory.

Minnesota’s lone lead of the game was 2-0.

The Hornets and Hawks entered Monday as the League’s top-two 3-point shooting teams.

The loss was the Wolves’ third straight as they struggle to navigate the most difficult portion of their schedule to date. It doesn’t get any easier Wednesday, when Utah comes to town.

The Jazz currently rank sixth in 3-point shooting percentage.

Minnesota has given up a bevy of wide-open 3-point attempts all season — often to the opponent’s third, fourth and fifth offensive options — as a product of the team’s aggressive, fly-around defense.

The Wolves are always scrambling and recovering, so enough ball movement generally leads to an open triple. But opponents haven’t been able to connect on those open looks for most of the season.

Teams like Atlanta (13-12) almost always will. The Hawks’ lineups always feature four or five shooters. Eight different Atlanta players hit triples Monday. Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot hit seven. Former Wolves center Gorgui Dieng went 3 for 4 from deep. Jaden McDaniels said the Wolves didn’t do a good enough job closing out hard and running shooters off the 3-point line.

“It’s just something we come in with and we know they shoot the three ball tremendously well. If we do a great job of defending the three and making it at least difficult on them, they’re not going to shoot 51 percent from three, giving ourselves a better chance,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Even if we get them to shoot 40 percent today, we’re talking about a whole different game and a whole different postgame (press conference). It wasn’t the offense for us that was the problem. It was the defense tonight, which was the flip in the narrative we have of us.”

Some of Atlanta’s offensive success came in transition, but the Hawks also had plenty of success from deep in the half-court sets. Atlanta shot just 15 for 41 from inside the arc, but that doesn’t matter when you’re lighting it up from deep.

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said the Wolves didn’t possess their usual urgency to contest shots.

“A lot of them were just short closeouts or not getting out to guys who we didn’t think could shoot the ball,” Finch said. “When I look at the tape, in terms of our scheme, I was pretty happy. I didn’t think we were being picked apart in the initial. It’s just that we didn’t keep moving around.”

Hawks star guard Trae Young posted 29 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Clint Capela had nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and four assists.

Minnesota (11-13) shot well from deep, as well — a welcomed change from the norm this season. The Wolves shot 43 percent from three. Malik Beasley went 6 for 13 on triple tries en route to 24 points. Anthony Edwards had 20 points and seven assists, but shot just 6 for 19 from the floor, while Towns finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds.

Minnesota was without D’Angelo Russell, Jaylen Nowell and Patrick Beverley. It’s been short-handed in each of its three losses, but Finch noted other guys simply have to step up more than they did Monday.

“There’s no margin for error for our team no matter what you’re talking about — rotation, effort or defense or shooting. We just don’t have much margin for error,” Finch said. “That’s why we’ve got to play basically full throttle and get back to guarding people. When we do that we have a chance.”

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Registration for annual Stillwater art and science festival for students accepted until Dec. 23

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Registration for annual Stillwater art and science festival for students accepted until Dec. 23

The Partnership Plan is scheduled to hold its annual DaVinci Fest on Jan. 22, celebrating science and art in the St. Croix Valley.

Students in fourth through 12th grades who live within the boundaries of the Stillwater Area Public Schools, regardless of where they attend school, can submit projects in science, art, upcycling and film. Top students who participate in the science fair will be eligible to go on to further competitions.

Registration is open until Dec. 23 and information can be found at partnershipplan.org/davincifest.

The DaVinci Fest is hosted by the Partnership Plan, the non-profit educational fund for Stillwater Area Public Schools. The Jan. 22 festival will be held at Stillwater Area High School. Admission is free and face masks will be required.

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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

HERAT, Afghanistan — Over the course of an hour on a recent night, the bus waiting in the Herat station filled with passengers. Mostly young men, they had no luggage, just the clothes on their backs, maybe a bag with some bread and water for the long road ahead of them.

That road is leading them to Iran.

Every day, multiple buses rumble out of Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, carrying hundreds of people to the border. There they disembark, connect with their smugglers and trek for days, sometimes crammed into pickup trucks bumping through wastelands, sometimes on foot through treacherous mountains in the darkness, eluding guards and thieves.

Once in Iran, most will stay there to look for work. But a few hope to go farther.

“We’re going to get to Europe,” said Haroun, a 20-year-old sitting in the bus next to his friend Fuad. Back in their village there is no work. “We have no choice, the economy here is a wreck. Even if it means our death on the way, we accept that.”

Afghans are streaming across the border into Iran in accelerating numbers, driven by desperation. Since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s economic collapse has accelerated, robbing millions of work and leaving them unable to feed their families. In the past three months, more than 300,000 people have crossed illegally into Iran, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and more are coming at the rate of 4,000 to 5,000 a day.

The European Union is now bracing for a potential swell in Afghans trying to reach its shores at a time when EU nations are determined to lock down against migrants in general.

So far, a post-Taliban surge of Afghan migrants to Europe hasn’t materialized. Afghan entries into the EU have “remained mostly stable,” according to an EU weekly migration report from Nov. 21. The report noted that some Afghans who arrived in Italy from Turkey in November told authorities they had fled their country after the Taliban takeover.

But a significant portion of migrants likely intend to stay in Iran, which is struggling to shut its doors. It already hosts more than 3 million Afghans who fled their homeland during the past decades of turmoil.

Iran is stepping up deportations, sending 20,000 or 30,000 Afghans back every week. This year, Iran deported more than 1.1 million Afghans as of Nov. 21 — 30% higher than the total in all of 2020, according to the International Organization for Migration. Those deported often try again, over and over.

In Afghanistan, the exodus has emptied some villages of their men. In Jar-e Sawz, a village north of Herat visited by The Associated Press, an elderly man was the only male left after all the younger men left.

One smuggler in Herat — a woman involved in the business for two decades — said that before the Taliban takeover, she was transporting 50 or 60 people a week into Iran, almost all single men. Since the August takeover, she moves around 300 people a week, including women and children.

“The country is destroyed so people have to leave,” she said, speaking on condition she not be named because of her work. “I feel like I’m doing the right thing. If some poor person asks me, I can’t refuse them. I ask God to help me help them.”

She charges the equivalent of almost $400 per person, but only about $16 up front, with the rest paid after the migrant finds work. The pay-later system is common in Herat, a sign that there are so many migrants, smugglers can accept some risk that some will be unable to pay. Along the way, smugglers pass out bribes to Taliban, Pakistani and Iranian border guards to turn a blind eye, she said.

Everyone going gives the same reason.

“There is nothing here. There is no work and our families are hungry,” said Naib, a 20-year-old who was pausing with a group of migrants one night in a desolate area within sight of the Iranian border outside Herat. “We go crawling if we have to. There is no other choice.”

Afghanistan was already one of the poorest countries in the world before the Taliban takeover, and the economy has deteriorated the past year, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a punishing drought since late 2020.

When the Taliban came to power on Aug. 15, the main artery keeping Afghanistan’s economy alive — international donor funds — was severed. With the Taliban government unable to pay salaries, hundreds of thousands of state employees found themselves with no livelihoods. With funding for projects gone, many jobs vanished across the labor market.

Farid Ahmed, a 22-year-old in Herat, used to go to a main square each day to be hired by building contractors for a day’s work. Previously, he found work most days. “Now we wait all day and no one comes to hire us,” he said.

So last month, he took his wife and their two young daughters — ages 8 months and 2 years — across the border. From a relative already there, he heard that a Tehran weaving factory had jobs for him and his wife.

The crossing was a nightmare, he said. They had to walk for three hours in the darkness with several hundred other people across the border. In the cold and darkness, his daughters were crying. Once in Iran, they were almost immediately caught by police and deported.

Back home, nothing has changed. He goes to the square every day but finds no work, he said. So he will try taking his family again. “After winter,” he said. “It’s too cold now for the children to cross.”

Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, is a main hub for Afghans from other parts of the country making their way to Iran.

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