Of course, they may have done better had they not lost a significant portion of their starting roster to major injuries. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez were both lost for half the season with injuries. Jake Westbrook needed major surgery only part-way into the season. And when the season started to fall apart, the Indians divested instead of investing: C.C. traded to Milwaukee, Casey Blake traded to the Dodgers, Paul Byrd traded to the Red Sox, Jason Michaels released. And one of the strong points of the team from 2007, the bullpen, was miserable this year. Joe Borowski was so bad that he was unceremoniously released less than halfway into the season. The closer's role was handed to a variety of average young guys who make your stomach turn, although maybe not as much as JoBo did.
How do you lose the reigning Cy Young winner, another 15-game winner, a closer, a three-position starter, your starting catcher and your DH, and still contend for the title?
The numbers don't hide the difference, despite what Mark Twain says about statistics:
2007 Batting: .268 BA, .343 OBP, .428 slugging, .771 OPS
2008 Batting: .262 BA, .339 OBP, .424 slugging, .763 OPS
2007 Pitching: 4.05 ERA, 45 saves, .268 BAA
2008 Pitching: 4.45 ERA, 31 saves, .273 BAA
It would seem that the pitching was the problem. If you take out Cliff Lee's stellar 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, then the difference is more than significant; it is precipitous. Just check out these numbers:
> w/Cliff Lee----1437 1530 712 444 986 4.46 1.37
> w/o Cliff Lee--1214 1316 649 410 816 4.81 1.42
Look at those last two columns, in red. The ERA increases by an incredible 0.35 earned runs per game! And the WHIP goes up by 0.05. Think about that: for every 20 innings pitched (or just over two games), the non-Cliff-Lee-Indians gave up an extra walk or hit than Cliff Lee did alone. A team can't take this amount of a drop-off in production AND trade away three starters AND lose two other starters for significant time, and still be expected to compete.
Only the Twins can do that.