The standings insist the Rockies are contenders. Now would be a good time to start acting like one. It's a two-part plan: Get healthy and get serious about acquiring more pitching.

The first part is finally coming together, Band-Aids peeling away, ice packs melting with the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and center fielder Dexter Fowler. Tulowitzki, a three-time all-star, went 4-for-5 in his rehab assignment. He is expected to be activated Thursday after going through a pregame workout. Fowler is a lock to start. He has missed less time than Tulo, and his bruised right hand has improved significantly, though he still had a couple of awkward swings with Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday.

There's no way to overstate their importance. The Rockies have been completely compromised offensively without their leadoff guy, third hitter (Carlos Gonzalez missed the previous two games) and cleanup man.

The Rockies entered Wednesday 8-16 without Tulo witzki, going from an overachieving team to a club counting on its neighbors' ineptness to remain relevant. Tulowitzki was arguably the National League MVP favorite when he broke his fifth right rib diving for a groundball June 13. It's going to take a few weeks of games before he feels normal.

Michael Cuddyer went through something similar earlier this season with a bruised rib. He wasn't comfortable sliding initially. And defensively he had an advantage because outfielders dive a lot less frequently than do shortstops. He has advised Tulo on what to expect.

Don't be surprised if the Rockies ease him back into the fold, playing him a game followed by rest or even shortening his night by a few innings. Fowler will start immediately. His defense alone will make the Rockies better. There have been some six flyballs misplayed in his absence, extending innings and unnecessarily inflating pitch counts.