It’s a tough time to be a Washington, D.C. sports fan, as my colleague Mark Zuckerman pointed out yesterday. If you look around at the standings across the various sports leagues, Washington teams don’t sit very high.
The Nationals, of course, just finished fifth in the National League East for the fourth consecutive season following their 2019 World Series championship, despite a 16-win improvement from 2022. At the end of the NFL regular season, the Commanders finished last in their division and now own the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft. In the NBA, the Wizards currently own the league’s third-worst record and are on track for a lottery pick, possibly the No. 1 selection. The Capitals are treading water in the middle of the NHL standings, trying to avoid the first back-to-back seasons of missing the playoffs since the start of the Alex Ovechkin era.
The Mystics, who also won a championship in 2019, made the WNBA playoffs despite a sub-.500 record and were swept out of the first round. The local soccer clubs – MLS’ D.C. United and NWSL’s Washington Spirit – finished in the middle of the pack without postseason appearances in their respective campaigns.
By most accounts, all of Washington’s professional sports teams are either in a rebuild or barely toeing the line of competitiveness.
The Commanders’ new ownership group has already begun to clean house and rebuild the entire organization. They are taking steps to hire a new general manager and head coach, who will use the No. 2 pick in the draft to start building the roster in their image. Although turnarounds in the NFL have been proven to take less time, the local football team is just beginning the long journey back to being one of the best franchises in the league.
Last spring, the Wizards completed a front office shakeup by hiring a new president and general manager to start the rebuild process. The expectation is that they will tear down the roster and coaching staff, then use what they are hoping to be a high draft pick to select a new young face of the franchise as they look to be one of basketball’s best teams in the coming years.
The Capitals, who have been the most successful and popular team in town over the last two decades, also seem to be in a transition period. Their roster is a mix of aging veterans with large contracts and up-and-coming young talent. General manager Brian MacLellan is the second-longest tenured head front office man in town, behind only the Nats’ Mike Rizzo. While the team and fans focus on Ovechkin’s chase of Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record, MacLellan is focused on constructing a roster that can annually compete for Stanley Cups. The Caps lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the four seasons following their championship in 2018 and, as mentioned, are in danger of missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Though having won a championship recently and making the playoffs in three of the subsequent four years, the Mystics are 62-68 over their last four seasons. They may not be rebuilding, but they also need to find a way to get back to the upper echelon of the WNBA, which is getting more competitive and expanding in the coming years.
Traditionally one of Washington’s more successful teams, D.C. United is currently in a winning drought it hasn’t seen in its nearly 30 years of existence. Owners of four MLS Cups, United hasn’t reached the playoffs in four years and hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2015. They haven’t won a title since 2004 and have only made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice since. United just hired a new GM in November and are still looking to hire a permanent head coach.
The Spirit have also recently won a championship, claiming their first NWSL Championship in 2021. But they have gone 10-19-15 over the last two years, failing to qualify for the playoffs in both. They fired their head coach in October and are still in search of a replacement.
That brings us to the Nationals, another local team with a recent championship that has had to undergo a rebuild in recent years.
The Nats admittedly started the process in July 2021, meaning they have been openly doing it the longest of the local teams. But they also have had the most consistency in leadership. Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez are the longest tenured GM and head coach/manager duo in town. Rizzo has pulled off a successful rebuild before. Martinez has guided a team to a championship. And the young pieces on the roster are starting to realize their potential.
With the expected arrivals of top prospects Dylan Crews, James Wood and Brady House this year, the Nats’ young core of CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Cade Cavalli will get an extra boost.
Their 16-win improvement last year sets the stage for a season closer to, if not surpassing, .500 in 2024. Perhaps they can even make a late-season push for a wild card spot.
The Nats have done their time, and their hard work and patience are about to pay off. With other teams in the local market still trying to gain their footing in their respective rebuilds, the baseball club is leading the way back to competitiveness in a town that desperately wants winners again.