An important part of settling into a new place is familiarizing yourself with the local sports teams. Washington D.C. has a rich professional sports environment, with teams from the MLB, NFL, NBA, WNBA, and NHL. As the “City of Champions,” D.C. fans have been fortunate to live through recent championships by the NHL’s Capitals (2018), MLB’s Nationals (2019), and WNBA’s Washington Mystics (2019). In a short form no longer than your first college paper, the Voice’s Halftime Sports section has brought together an overview of each of the five professional teams.
Washington Nationals (MLB): After earning the World Series crown last year, the Nationals team that emerged from the offseason did not pack the same punch. Though the Nationals lost star Anthony Rendon in free agency, they were able to retain pitcher Stephen Strasburg to keep their powerful starting rotation intact. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reshaped the 2020 season, and for the Nationals that meant 15-year Washington veteran Ryan Zimmerman opted out for the year. Fortunately, Juan Soto is and will continue to be a centerpiece of the team’s appearance moving forward.
This year’s Nationals team has not been able to replicate last year’s winning equation when it comes to staging incredible comebacks. As of Aug. 25, the Nationals currently sit at last place in the National League East with a record of 11- 16. Not all hope is lost, considering how close the teams in the NL East are in the standings. Soto has shown that he is one of the best hitters in MLB, bursting with power (8 HR in 84 PA) while maintaining discipline at the plate (.475 OBP). However, both Strasburg and veteran infielder Starlin Castro will miss the rest of the regular season with wrist injuries. Overall, while the starting rotation has underperformed, the bullpen has made major strides over their performance in 2019. In particular, Tanner Rainey has been a revelation, striking out nearly 13 batters per 9 innings while cutting his walk rate in half. Starting pitching is what built the Nationals, and their struggles this unorthodox season have been difficult to overcome.
Washington Football Team (NFL): The Washington Football Team, formerly known as the Washington Redskins, have had an eventful offseason for all the wrong reasons. After years of pressure to change the team’s derogatory slogan and logo, numerous team sponsors began to pull out from the organization, ultimately convincing management to finally update the team’s brand. Incredibly, no new slogan was chosen to replace the Redskins tag, and the team announced they would temporarily be called the Washington Football Team. Along with the name change, numerous sexual harassment accusations from female employees and former cheerleaders have come to light, with more coming out by the day. To top it all off, recent reports state minority owners of the Football Team are trying to sell their stakes. If there is any consolation for Washington, who finished last in the NFC East at 3-13 last season and haven’t made the playoffs since 2015, there isn’t much lower that the franchise can go.
New head coach Ron Rivera will look to right the ship in Washington with some new defensive pieces, including second overall pick DE Chase Young and free agent CB Kendall Fuller. This season, the team will look to develop a young core to build around for the future. Young will be a key player along with second-year QB Dwayne Haskins, wideout Terry McLaurin, and defensive youngsters Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen. Rivera, new OC Scott Turner, and new DC Jack Del Rio will look to bring out the most of Washington’s younger pieces in hopes of becoming a respectable franchise rather than one others see as an easy-win.
Washington Wizards (NBA): To put it bluntly, the Wizards are in a bad spot right now. The team is heavily skewed towards its offense, which is run almost single-handedly by Bradley Beal (bless his soul) as its defense has been nonexistent for the past couple seasons. In the NBA bubble, the sorry state of the team was made painfully clear. The Wizards traveled to the bubble without Beal and ended up being the team with the worst bubble record of 1-7, only winning against a Celtics team who rested their starting lineup. The losses in the bubble dropped their position in the overall standings behind the Charlotte Hornets, who did not even travel to Orlando.
There is some hope for this team next season, however. Star PG John Wall is returning after being injured for nearly 2 years, and Beal has signed an extension through 2023. Additionally, Ian Mahinmi’s bloated $64 million contract expired, leaving more salary cap space for future signings or bigger contracts to young players such as Rui Hachimura or Thomas Bryant, who have both played well for the Wizards. The bubble trip also gave rookies like Troy Brown Jr. valuable experience to explore different positions and develop further. However, it remains to be seen if Wall can live up to his max contract. He’ll be 30 years old by the time next season starts and has relied heavily on his athleticism in the past. His age and Achilles injury will no doubt tear into his playstyle, and how he adapts will be key to the team’s success. Even if Wall comes back as an offensive monster, Coach Scott Brooks will need to shore up the defense if the Wizards want to win a playoffs series in the near future.
Washington Mystics (WNBA): Led by WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics ran through the competition in 2019, resulting in a title when they defeated the Connecticut Sun in five games. Delle Donne was undeniably the squad’s star, battling through back spasms in the WNBA Finals to cap off a stellar regular season. She was supported by a host of role players who helped create a high octane offensive attack. Over the offseason, they lost Guard Kristi Toliver to free agency, but traded for former MVP Tina Charles, and were expected to contend once more. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns, Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and LaToya Sanders all opted out of the 2020 WNBA season, which is currently taking place in a Bradenton, Florida bubble. Expectations quickly tempered.
Led by Ariel Atkins, Aerial Powers and Emma Meesseman, the ‘Stics started the season with three consecutive wins. Then the bottom fell out. Powers badly injured her hamstring, and the team is currently sitting on a 4-9 record after a seven game losing streak. Head coach Mike Thibault has begun to focus on player development, knowing that the team will have a chance to contend once more next season. The team has also spent its time supporting pertinent social justice issues, at a level incomparable to other District teams. Sometimes the world is more important than basketball, and the Mystics have been on the forefront for a long time.
Washington Capitals (NHL): This season has definitely been disappointing for Caps fans. With first round exits in the past two years, the Capitals need to reevaluate their gameplan. On August 23rd, the Capitals fired head coach Todd Reirden, who coached the team for two seasons. Now, the Capitals need someone who can get the job done. As Ovi, Backstrom, Oshie and Carlson all get older, the window of opportunity is closing. Luckily, there are a few solid coaches available, including Gerard Gallant and Peter Laviolette, and hopefully the Caps can find a coach who can make the most of a powerful but aging squad. On the ice, the Caps took a big hit between the pipes. With goaltender Braden Holtby’s contract ending after this season, it may be the end of his tenure in Washington, especially when the team doesn’t have the cap space to offer him this contract, so it is very likely that Holtby’s time in Washington is over.
The Capitals have been Stanley Cup contenders for a while, and as long as Ovi has gas in the tank, I don’t see them missing the playoffs in the near future. However, teams like the Rangers and Devils are on the rise, and with the draft and offseason coming up, the Metro could get very interesting.