OAKLAND -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia looks at the total game of Chone Figgins -- hitting, running, fielding, clutch performances -- and this is what he sees: Most Valuable Player candidate.

"He's been playing at an extremely high level for the whole season," Scioscia said of his All-Star third baseman. "For a guy that's a leadoff hitter, he's impacted our lineup as much as anybody hitting in any spot.

"He's scoring a ton of runs, getting on base, hitting in the clutch -- the defense he's played, everything. There's no doubt if he keeps going and we keep going, it'll put him in consideration for MVP. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Figgins beamed when this endorsement was delivered by a messenger.

"I have finished in the top 25 three times, but I don't think anybody really noticed," he said. "The thing is, I'm getting better. I feel like I'm improving in pretty much every area."

Figgins leads the AL West-leading Angels into a three-game series against the Royals, who send Sidney Ponson out against rookie Sean O'Sullivan in the opener.

Figgins had his highest MVP finish in 2005, when he was 17th -- second on the team to Vladimir Guerrero. In 2004, Figgins was tied for 24th, and in 2007, despite missing 47 games with two broken fingers, he was tied for 20th in the balloting with Justin Morneau.

"I played with three people who are a lot better players than people seemed to realize -- Juan Pierre, Garret [Anderson] and now Bobby [Abreu]," Figgins said. "They're great guys, but they're quiet, and they have not sought out attention. I'm starting to fit that mold a little."

Figgins has been hard to ignore lately. He had a leadoff homer on Saturday against the A's and bunted for a hit in his next at-bat, finishing the game with three runs scored and a pair of superlative defensive plays at third.

He's known for his raw speed -- fourth in the AL in steals with 27 and tied for first in triples with seven -- but he is acquiring another identity as a man who dials it up when it counts. He's batting .374 from the seventh inning on.

"It's just a matter of putting together good at-bats," Figgins said. "I've learned a lot from being around Bobby. The big thing is not to panic when you have two strikes. Stay within yourself, keep at-bats alive [and] then find something you like and go after it."

Pitching matchup
LAA: RHP Sean O'Sullivan (2-0, 3.80 ERA)
O'Sullivan has opened eyes in his four Major League starts, keeping his team in the game with toughness and resourcefulness. He has 15 strikeouts against only six walks over 23 2/3 innings. In his most recent appearance, on July 4 at home against the Orioles, the burly right-hander surrendered four earned runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings while striking out two batters. The Angels are 4-0 in his starts.

KC: RHP Sidney Ponson (1-5, 7.27 ERA)
With Gil Meche on the disabled list, Ponson is returning to the Royals' rotation for his first start since May 6. Ponson threw 7 1/3 innings in that start against the Mariners, allowing just one run on eight hits in his only win of the season. He moved to the bullpen shortly after that and made five relief appearances for Kansas City. The right-hander went on the DL in early June with an elbow strain, but he was solid during a rehab stint with Triple-A Omaha. The Royals added Ponson before the season once he pitched effectively in the World Baseball Classic for the Netherlands.

Tidbits
The Angels swept the Royals three straight at home May 8-10, handing Zack Greinke his first loss after six wins when he was outdueled, 1-0, by Joe Saunders. ... The Angels are 17-9 in one-run decisions this season. ... Since June 1, Abreu, who broke up lefty Brett Anderson's perfect game in the seventh inning on Sunday in Oakland, leads the AL with 39 RBIs. Abreu is batting .394 with runners in scoring position. He is two homers away from 250 for his career. ... Erick Aybar leads the Angels with 12 bunt hits and 20 infield hits.

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Up next
• Tuesday: Angels (Ervin Santana, 2-5, 6.70) at Royals (Bruce Chen, 0-4, 6.86), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: Angels (Joe Saunders, 8-6, 4.72) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 6-7, 3.66), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Angels (Jered Weaver, 10-3, 3.48) vs. Twins (TBD), 7:05 p.m. PT