by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
On Monday, Angels fans heard one of the most satisfying sounds of the spring so far.
That was when four-time All-Star Justin Upton crushed the prettiest double you’d ever want to see to deep center — a sizzling line drive over everyone’s heads — and the sound off the bat was the crack of pure wood on ball.
That’s when you knew it was going to be an Angels hit parade, as the Angels pounded out 15 hits and thumped the visiting Chicago Cubs 15-7 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
But moreso, it was Upton doing some big hitting himself.
Upton — or J-Up as the fans call him — wasn’t done. He smoked another double in the second down the left-field line and drove in Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
That kind of hitting makes manager Joe Maddon’s bushy white eyebrows turn up in happiness as he smiles behind his mask in the dugout.
With Upton swinging the bat as well as he is, there’s a lot to be hopeful for from the Angels offense.
Upton was once one of MLB’s most feared sluggers when he arrived in Anaheim in 2017 in a trade with the Detroit Tigers for a pair of minor leaguers.
But other than 2018, when he hit 30 homers, Upton has been mostly miss instead of hit for the Angels — a combination of frustrating slumps and freakish injuries have muted Upton’s threat.
But if Justin Upton produces like this, and everyone stays healthy, the Angels’ offense should be one of the best in all of baseball.
Upton is hitting .367 (11 for 30) with an OPS of 1.191 and his three homers are tied with Scott Schebler for second on the Angels in Cactus League behind Shohei Ohtani’s team-leading four.
It all lines up for a very scary lineup for opposing pitchers to navigate with no rest — a combination of sluggers Trout, Rendon, Upton and Ohtani lining up behind leadoff man David Fletcher.
The ‘Brief Breakdown’:
Pitching: The Angels’ offense was so overwhelming Monday that it didn’t matter that no Halo pitchers completed scoreless innings.
Former UCLA ace Griffin Canning, one of the Angels most promising starters, worked five innings, stretching his pitch count out to 70. He allowed three runs and lowered his ERA to 7.11 and struck out two.
He ended his postgame Zoom conference by asking what the score was in the UCLA-Abilene Christian score in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. Told by Angels PR Manager Matt Birch that his alma mater was up by 19, Canning exclaimed “Whoa!”
For the record, the Bruins won 67-47, so we can assume Canning’s bracket is safe.
“Physically, I feel really good,” said Canning, whose last two innings were clean. “Overall, today was a reminder not to pitch ‘frustrated.’ … I felt like I found something a little extra that last inning.”
Patrick Sandoval gave up a pair of runs over three innings of work in relief of Canning, and Jake Faria closed things out by giving up a run in an inning of work.
Batters: Who didn’t hit? All the Angels starters collected at least one hit except Albert Pujols, who was hit by a pitch by Cubs pitcher Ryan Tepera and left early.
The Angels host the Dodgers at the Big A on Sunday, March 28, and then the two teams play at Dodger Stadium March 29-30.
The red-hot 41-year-old Pujols, batting .382, had X-rays on his arm after being hit by a pitch and they were negative. The Machine was diagnosed with a wrist contusion and he is day-to-day.
The Angels announced Monday that single-game tickets will go on sale on this Friday, March 26 for April home games. So, go and snap them up, Halo fans. Go!
The club also announced its Covid-19 protocols for fans attending games. See the team’s official website for details.
On Tuesday: The Angels travel to Surprise Stadium to take on their division rival Texas Rangers. Angels staff leader Andrew Heaney (0-0, 4.66 ERA) opposes Rangers right-hander Jordan Lyles (0-0, 3.00).
*(Amazing obscure Angels stat-blasts courtesy of Matt “Birchy” Birch, Angels public relations manager).