While the Brewers have maintained a lead in the NL Central throughout most of the 2014 season, there has been a pervading sense that this is one of, if not the, last chances the team will have to compete for the next few years.
Mostly, that sense comes not from the Brewers' failures but from the fact that other team's in the division -- most notable the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates -- all have extraordinarily strong farm systems that could push them ahead of the Brewers in coming years. However, it's important to note that the Brewers aren't exactly an old team that's falling apart.
In fact, the average age of the Brewers' roster is 28.8 years old this season. The rest of the NL Central teams all fall between 27-29 in terms of average age. Of course, average age doesn't tell the whole story. And those other squads will see their's lower with young prospects coming up.
But the key contributors on the Brewers are by and large all fairly young as well. In fact, the team only has one key offensive contributor (Aramis Ramirez, 36) and one key starting pitcher (Kyle Lohse, 35) who are older than 30 years old.
Other players -- most notable Ryan Braun, Matt Garza, and Mark Reynolds -- are 30 on the dot. Those guys should still have a few years of quality play in them yet, though. At least, the former two should. Despite Reynolds' nice 2014 season, I don't think anyone is hoping to rely on him consistently past this year.
Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett are just 24. Yovani Gallardo, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are 28. Khris Davis is 26. Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson are 25. The oldest part of the Brewers is their bullpen, but even there they have players like Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith.
Overall, most of the core of the Brewers is young, and still under team control for the next couple of years at least. The only younger player who is not signed long-term is Gallardo, who could be a free agent as soon as this year.
Meanwhile, the Brewers have what looks to be a strong core of prospects at their lower levels of the minors. A strong 2014 draft class helps with that, too. In a few years, the teams farm might be looking pretty strong just as the Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs do now.
It's a bit of an optimistic viewpoint, but there's reason to believe the Brewers won't fall back to the bottom of the division soon after 2014. It will be tougher with other teams getting better, but Milwaukee isn't an old broken-down squad. They have young, good players. And they have an inkling of a good farm system. In a best-case scenario, the Brewers are a team that could compete for the next decade still. It may not happen, but there's a chance. The hardest thing won't be how good the Brewers are, but just how good the other teams in the division might end up being. But it's good just to have a glimmer of hope.