The Rangers return home for seven straight games starting tonight. They'll face the first-place Minnesota Twins for four games and then welcome AL West rival Oakland to town. Overall, it was a disappointing trip. But it ended on a good note with a 6-4 win on Sunday. We learned a few things on the road trip and there are some things to watch this week. Let's take a look:
* RHP Rich Harden gets one more chance to show he belongs in this rotation. He'll take the mound tonight, sliding back into his spot after spending some time on the disabled list (right shoulder tendinitis). Harden was paid good money this offseason to be an important member of this rotation and he's struggled nearly all season. He'll get a stern test tonight. But it sure appears he's on a start-by-start basis now. If he pitches well tonight, he'll get another shot. If not, Derek Holland or someone else could get another opportunity.
* 2B Ian Kinsler is supposed to get another MRI today (groin strain). If it shows that the inflammation has gone down, he could resume baseball activities this week and be in position to return around that Sept. 1 date. That would be a big boost to this lineup.
* DH Vladimir Guerrero appears to be snapping out of an extended slump. He had the big three-run homer on Sunday and had at least one hit in every game over the road trip. He has a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .317 (13-for-41) in that span. No, the RBIs haven't been there -- 5 total in that stretch. But it's a good sign that he's swinging the bat again. Let's see if he can continue to get that swing going this week. With Nelson Cruz out, Guerrero's power is a critical thing for this team.
* Closer Neftali Feliz allowed a solo home run to start the ninth on Sunday and got a visit from manager Ron Washington. Feliz then struck out the next three batters for his 31st save. I thought it was smart that Washington himself went out there to remind Feliz that he needed to bear down and get the key batters. Feliz has come in late in tight games to nail down saves and is getting some important experience in that environment. He's likely to see more of that this week.
* Cliff Lee should face the Twins in the final game of the series. How will he bounce back? Lee has allowed six or more runs in his last two starts and four or more runs in his last three starts. He's had streaks like this before in his career. The last time was late last season and he bounced back with a shutout after the three straight struggling outings. Can he do the same this week?
* What will the offense do against what should be good starting pitching for both the Twins and A's? Texas hasn't scored runs consistently the last few weeks and good pitching in Tampa Bay kept them down (not to mention a few Baltimore starters with mediocre stats that took advantage of a cool lineup). But to get three-run homers from two of the big bats in the lineup on Sunday could have a carryover effect. The injury bug has gotten this team, but they still have to produce. Even on Sunday, they had opportunities to add runs and couldn't (left the bases loaded with one out in the eighth). Watch how they handle those situations this week.
* Michael Kirkman had a great debut on Saturday. I'd like to see more of him and how he reacts in front of the home crowd.