With pitchers Kevin Slowey and Ron Mahay joining Jose Mijares on the disabled list after suffering injuries in Saturday's loss to the Angels, the Twins pitching staff appears to be in trouble.

Under normal circumstances, the latest rash of injuries -- the Twins have a total of seven players on the disabled list, including five pitchers, not to mention Justin Morneau -- the team's chances to win the AL Central would not appear to be all that good.

But the Tigers have fallen apart since the All-Star break because of their own injuries and are not a threat. And the White Sox, who have lost five consecutive series, appear to have a tougher remaining schedule than the Twins, with seven games remaining against the Red Sox and three at Yankee Stadium.

However, to go beyond simply winning the division -- and they have a five-game lead after Scott Baker's seven shutout innings Sunday night against the Angels -- the Twins might have to make a deal for a pitcher.

A year ago, General Manager Bill Smith waved his magic wand and landed four veteran players, including three pitchers, who helped the Twins win the AL Central. He might need to do it again.

On July 31, 2009, the Twins were 52-51 and in third place when they traded for shortstop Orlando Cabrera from Oakland for prospect Tyler Ladendorf. Without Cabrera's play and leadership -- he hit .289 with five homers and 36 RBI after the deal -- the Twins would not have won the division. Ladendorf is currently hitting .275 for Class A Stockton.

On Aug. 7 of last year, Smith was able to acquire pitcher Carl Pavano from Cleveland for a player that ended up being pitcher Yohan Pino. Pavano not only pitched well for the Twins in 2009, going 5-4 with a 4.64 ERA, but has been a staff ace this year. Pino is 9-8 with a 5.60 ERA for Class AAA Columbus.

Then on Aug. 28, the Twins traded for reliever Jon Rauch from Arizona in exchange for Kevin Mulvey, one of the players the Twins acquired in the Johan Santana trade with the Mets. Rauch made a big impact in the Twins bullpen last year, going 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA in only 17 games, and then did a great job as the closer this year when Joe Nathan was lost for the season. Mulvey is 4-8 with a 4.64 ERA for Class AAA Reno.

Also on that day in 2009, the Twins picked up Mahay after the Royals let him go. Mahay was very effective in 2009 (1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 16 games), and was brought back this April when the Twins wanted another lefthander.

But because it's August, players must pass through waivers to be moved. It's easier to pick up a player when you're in second and third place, because you can put a claim in before the first-place team can.

But Smith found a way to make the team better last year, and he might do it again.

To set divisions

Joel Maturi is attending a meeting Monday in Chicago where the Gophers athletic director expects a vote to set the Big Ten Conference's two six-team divisions in football, then have the chancellors of the 12 schools vote on it.

While Maturi wouldn't speculate, the word around the conference is that the Gophers will not have both Iowa and Wisconsin, their two traditional rivals, in their division.

"We're close to finalizing and obviously need to, because we need to establish next year's schedule, let alone schedules in the future," Maturi said.

Maturi is in favor of a nine-game conference schedule. "It's possible that the Big Ten will go to nine conference games, and if that does happen then we won't be able to play four nonconference games," he said.

Maturi said the plan is to play five games within your division and one crossover game on a regular basis. Then the remaining conference games will come on a rotation.

Wills loses weight

One of the reasons that Gophers football coach Tim Brewster expects a lot more help from Jeff Wills this year is that the tackle, who weighed about 400 pounds last year, has lost about 50 pounds.

"He's really made a commitment to being in better physical condition, and you can see it in his play," Brewster said. "He's so much quicker side-to-side and doing the things that he's got to do as far as pass sets are concerned.

"To be honest, I think because he's lower [in weight], he's more mentally alert; he's able to sustain drives and play for extended amounts of time. I feel very good about where Jeff Wills is at right now. That's really exciting for a young guy, and to be quite honest with you, it's exciting for his health."

Brewster said a nutritionist is working with the 6-7 Wills -- a senior who joined the Gophers last year after two years at Lackawanna College -- to keep his weight down.

"We're teaching him to eat and we've got a nutritionist and really helping Jeff; he's a talented football player," Brewster said.

The truth is that the Gophers played Wills at right tackle last year because they didn't have anybody better. But it's a different story in 2010, with a fight for almost every position on offense. So the pressure is on Wills to stay in great shape.

Rubio impresses

Timberwolves 2009 first-round draft choice Ricky Rubio scored seven points and added three assists for Spain in its 86-85 loss to Team USA on Sunday in Madrid, a warmup contest in preparation for the world championships.

Among people Rubio impressed was Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach who is coaching the United States. Coach K said he expects Rubio, 19, to be a great NBA guard as he continues to grow. Krzyzewski's Team USA faced Rubio and Spain in the finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"He's gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he's a pass-first guard, he's going to be liked by everybody who plays with him," Krzyzewski told the Associated Press. "He's improved his shooting and he's not afraid."


One of the most important people in the Vikings organization has retired in receptionist Mary Nevers. Her great words "Minnesota Vikings" when she answered the phones will no longer be heard after 22 years of serving as a big public relations asset to the team. She took a lot of tough calls when things didn't go well for the club. Mary -- mother of Tommy Nevers, one of the best athletes ever developed around here -- decided to retire last week. Yes, for 22 years I'd see this great lady almost every weekday. She also had that big smile. She was a very close personal friend.

Adrian Peterson believes the Vikings will miss running back Chester Taylor, who signed with the Bears as a free agent over the offseason. "We definitely will miss a guy like Chester, a great third-down back, great in the pass protection, a guy that came in and did his job well," Peterson said. "It's hard to replace a guy like that, but we have young guys and myself that, without him being there, someone else has to take on the load."

Twins first-round pick Alex Wimmers started Saturday for Class A Fort Myers, giving up one hit and one walk in 2 2/3 innings. ... One of the highest-profile players the Twins have in their farm system is Miguel Sano, who received $3.15 million to sign. The 17-year-old had three hits, including a home run, for Fort Myers on Saturday and is hitting .293 with four homers and 17 RBI.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com