As Angels fans, we have more time on our hands than usual with no baseball for the foreseeable future. Why not take a trip down memory lane and reflect on all of the postseason appearances in Angels franchise history?
Today marks the fifth part in a 10-part series documenting every Angels playoff appearance. I’ll go chronologically, going from the first playoff appearance all the way to their most recent appearance. Next up on the list is the 2004 team that won their first division title in 18 years and helped kickstart a stretch of dominance at the top of the AL West.
PART 1: The 1979 Season
PART 2: The 1982 Season
PART 3: The 1986 Season
PART 4: The 2002 Season
The 2002 season put all the demons behind the Angels franchise. For the first time, they could call themselves champions. Much of the core from the ’02 team remained in 2004 but the Angels made a series of big splash free-agent signings. On top of the marquee signings of slugger Vladimir Guerrero and frontline starter Bartolo Colon, the organization also began a stretch of producing quality MLB players. As a result, the Angels were ready to consistently put out sustainable, long-term contenders. Two years after winning the World Series, the Angels won 92 games in the 2004 season, outscoring their opponents by 102 runs.
As a whole, the 2004 position players were right above league-average in multiple ways. From an offensive standpoint, they were 7th in runs scored (836) out of the 14 AL teams. While their .282 batting average was tied with the Red Sox for the best in baseball, their .340 OBP was sixth in the AL while their .429 SLG ranked 10th. Their 162 home runs ranked 20th in baseball.
The small-ball style became prevalent in 2004, partially due to Mike Scioscia’s preference but also due to the personnel on the field. The Angels led baseball with 143 stolen bases but they graded out as the 11th-best team according to Fangraphs BaseRunning Runs. The main culprit: their 46 times caught stealing was tied for the sixth-most while they had the fifth-fewest bases taken (118). In the field, the Angels dropped to below-average (minus 10 Total Zone Runs), in part due to the fall-off of many formerly prominent defensive performers.
The 2004 season represented a changing of the guard of sorts in terms of who contributed and who didn’t. In his first season of a 5-year, $70 million deal, Vladimir Guerrero bashed 39 home runs and posted an elite 154 wRC+ in a 5.9-win MVP-winning campaign. The prior core that helped carry the Angels to their ’02 title took a backseat to Guerrero and Chone Figgins (3.5 WAR). In 2002, the combination of Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, David Eckstein, and Darin Erstad accumulated 18.8 WAR. Two years later, that group accounted for just 5.9 WAR. Luckily for the Angels, their prestigious developmental program would start churning out more high-quality position players (and pitchers) in the very near future.
The pitching staff was a key cog in the Angels winning 92 games in 2004. By both ERA- (96) and FIP- (93), the Angels were a top-10 group. Angels pitchers posted the third-best strikeout percentage (18.6%) while boasting the 8th-best walk percentage (8%). This was an extremely talented group that fielded a competitive and above-average starting rotation and arguably baseball’s best bullpen.
The 2004 rotation was just below league-average, whether you look at ERA- (105) or FIP- (101). This was a bit disappointing given the personnel that the Angels featured in the rotation. Third-year starter John Lackey (104 ERA-) severely underperformed his underlying numbers (92 FIP-). Fresh off a half-decade of dominance and a new 4-year $51 million contract, Bartolo Colon was utterly mediocre (112 ERA-) in his first season in Anaheim. It was Kelvim Escobar, whose 3-year $18.75 million contract was overshadowed by Guerrero and Colon, that led the way in the rotation. His 4.2 WAR was by far the best of any Angels pitcher and was a top-20 figure in baseball. Jarrod Washburn (1.7 WAR), Ramon Ortiz (0.8 WAR) and Aaron Sele (0.6 WAR) helped round out the rotation.
As alluded to before, the Angels bullpen was utterly dominant in 2004. Angels relievers led baseball in WAR (7.9 WAR), strikeout percentage (23.6%), FIP- (77) and xFIP- (78) and ranked 4th in ERA- (78). The unit was led by the two-headed monster of Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields. Rodriguez’s ’04 performance was arguably the best by a reliever in Angels’ history. His 3.7 WAR is tops in an individual season as was his 36.7% strikeout rate and 39 FIP-. Shields, who is the only Angels reliever with 100+ innings in the last quarter-century, had a superb 74 ERA- and 67 FIP-. Supplementing those two were Troy Percival and Kevin Gregg, both of whom had polar opposite seasons. Percival, in his last year in the closer role, was rather fortunate to post a 65 ERA- given his ugly 110 FIP-. Gregg, meanwhile, had a sterling 70 FIP- with a less impressive 94 ERA-.
2004 ALDS vs Boston
Unfortunately, the Red Sox made quick work of the Angels in a clean sweep in the first round. En route to snapping their 86-year curse and winning the World Series, Boston outscored the Angels 25 to 12 in the ALDS. Red Sox hitters had a combined .860 OPS while their pitchers had a 3.54 ERA. Angels hitters had a measly .679 OPS while the pitchers had a 6.18 ERA. In all fairness to the Angels, this was an insanely good Red Sox team. The pitching duo of Schilling-Martinez and hitting duo of Ramirez-Ortiz was a brutal matchup in the playoffs.
The Red Sox rather easily took Game 1 (9-3) and Game 2 (8-3) in Anaheim. Back in Boston for Game 3, a late-game-tying grand slam by Vladimir Guerrero was enough to send the game to extras. It wasn’t enough, however, to stop David Ortiz from crushing a series-clinching walk-off home run to send the Angels home. Rather depressingly, this was just another heartbreaking playoff performance against the Red Sox (see, 1986), a trend that would continue for the next half-decade.
- Jose Guillen, the Angels second-most productive hitter (122 wRC+), never made his way on the postseason roster. After an incident with manager Mike Scioscia, Guillen was suspended in late September and left off the postseason roster.
- With the signings of Guerrero, Colon, and Escobar, the Angels crossed the $100 million payroll threshold for the first time. After running middling payrolls for an extended period, the Angels had the third-highest payroll in 2004. Since that time, they have firmly entrenched themselves as one of baseball’s biggest spenders, finishing outside the top 10 just once (2017).
- For the second straight year, the Angels brought in 3+ million fans to The Big A. The 3.375 million fans that flocked to Angel Stadium were a then-franchise record.