Check out Reusse's 1991 column on Dan Gladden at www.startribune.com/twins.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - I've been wrong before watching the Twins in spring training. Dan Gladden, World Series hero turned radio analyst, was offering a reminder of that earlier this week.

"Spring of '91 ... our first year down here [in Fort Myers]," he said. "You were writing that we were going to be terrible. I lit you up one afternoon in the clubhouse. Right?"

Right.

"You know what? All the negative stuff helped us win the World Series," Gladden said. "We had added Jack Morris, Chili Davis, Mike Pagliarulo, but all we were hearing about was being a last-place team the year before. Then we started the season 2-9, and we were getting killed.

"And everyone in the clubhouse sort of fed off the pessimism. We were saying, 'We're going to show those ...' "

Let's go with "naysayers" as Gladden's description of the media critics the 1991 Twins were going to show.

Two weeks into exhibition games, the only hope for the 2008 Twins might be also finding the ability to feed off pessimism. That's because there is little to offer other than gloom after watching this ballclub for 10 days in Florida.

I don't want to get carried away, but with this starting rotation, the Twins have shot at finishing behind Kansas City, which would mean fifth out of five in the American League Central.

Francisco Liriano has gone from phenom to reclamation project. Livan Hernandez will need five runs (or more) to win a game. Scott Baker and Boof Bonser are 4-and-5 starters, not 1-and-2s.

The competition is so unimpressive for the fifth spot that rookie Nick Blackburn looks like a cinch after pitching only four innings this spring.

On Wednesday, there was more bad news to offer with the rotation:

• Liriano had no more life on his pitches than in his first comeback start last Friday. He faced 12 hitters in Boston's regular lineup, retired six and gave up three booming extra-base hits.

• Earlier this week, the Twins were shrugging off Baker's soreness below his right shoulder. Now, it's anyone's guess as to when he'll next pitch in a game.

Nothing can save a big-league team if it doesn't have a rotation that can compete. And the smartest baseball people you can find -- the number guys in Las Vegas -- look at the Twins rotation and see only holes.

"We haven't been high on the Twins since they lost their best starters [Johan Santana and Carlos Silva]," said Robert Walker, the sports book director at the MGM Mirage. "Baseball is very true when it comes to the line. Say, you're $160 [to $100] underdog on a regular basis ... you're very likely to lose five out of eight of those games.

"There's no way you can beat those numbers in the long run."

The Twins had a starter in Santana who was favored in 64 of 67 starts over the previous two years. When the schedule opens March 31, they won't have a starter who will be favored even half the time.

As the man said, you can't beat those numbers in the long run.

"Right now, we have the Twins at 75 victories for the season," Walker said. "And, if you want to bet them under 75, it costs you $130 to make $100. If you bet them over, it's $100 to make $110."

The Twins are rated ahead of only Oakland (74 victories), Tampa Bay (73 1/2), Kansas City (72) and Baltimore (66) among AL teams in the Mirage futures book. Boston has the top AL number at 94 1/2, followed by the Yankees and Central favorite Detroit at 93 1/2.

Seventeen years ago, when Gladden had the last laugh, it was a team that added Chili's potent bat to the lineup and Morris to the rotation. Those Twins also benefited greatly from Scott Erickson emerging as the league's best starter for the first half of the season.

These Twins have brought in a potent bat with Delmon Young, but as a tradeoff for the loss of Torii Hunter. No Morris has been added and there's no Erickson to be seen.

Really, the only similarity between the '91 and '08 Twins are the March insults. This time, those aren't going to help.

Bet the under.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com