- - Thursday, September 12, 2019

BALTIMORE — Adam Kolarek was with the Tampa Bay Rays in late July when he learned he had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The lefty pitcher with a strange sidearm delivery was moving on up — from a young team scraping for a wild card berth to a veteran club aiming for its first World Series title since 1988.

“As a player, you have a rush of emotions,” Kolarek said.

The 30-year-old Kolarek had made many friends with Tampa Bay, the team that gave him his first shot at the majors in 2017. But Kolarek realized going to the Dodgers meant a legitimate chance at playing in his first World Series.

Los Angeles clinched its seventh straight National League West title Tuesday night, beating the last-place Orioles 7-3. Shortstop Corey Seager hit two home runs to extend the Dodgers‘ NL record for home runs this year.

“It is exciting to be in a whole new locker room with a strong team that is bound for the playoffs,” Kolarek said.

But before another trip to the World Series, the Dodgers may have to withstand a postseason challenge — from the Washington Nationals.

With their own October ghosts to exorcise, the Nationals currently hold the top spot in the NL Wild Card race. Washington could host the wild card game on Oct. 1 and, with a win, would advance to the National League Division Series against the likely top-seed Dodgers.

The Nationals have won the NL East title four times and, on several occasions, have enjoyed a few days off between the regular-season finale and the first game of the playoffs. In those days off, the team held workouts at Nationals Park so hitters can see live pitching.

The Dodgers also have had a few days off in recent years before the playoffs. Similar to Washington, utility fielder Chris Taylor said the team would have workouts at Dodgers Stadium to keep hitters and pitchers fresh.

The Dodgers‘ pitching rotation is loaded with Clayton Kershaw (13-5, 3.06 ERA), Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-5, 2.45), Walker Buehler (13-3, 3.14) and veteran lefty Rich Hill (4-1, 2.55), who started at Baltimore on Thursday in the series finale.

Entering Thursday, the Dodgers offense led the NL in home runs (259), runs (802) and OPS (.816). Most importantly, the Dodgers owned the NL’s best record at 94-53.

Taylor was on the injured list when the Dodgers played three games at Nationals Park in late July. He was not on the postseason roster when the Dodgers beat the Nationals in five games in the NLDS in 2016.

A former University of Virginia player, Taylor said facing Washington in October would be “really cool.”

Fellow Virginia product and Los Angeles pitcher Josh Sborz made his Major League debut with the Dodgers on June 20. Three years earlier, he was in the stands at Nationals Park to watch Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw come out of the bullpen for the save to win Game 5 and clinch the National League Division Series over Washington.

“That was one of the coolest things I ever saw,” Sborz said.

Kolarek, who grew up near Baltimore and played at the University of Maryland, would welcome a chance to play the Nationals in October.

“Just the thought of that being a possibility is very exciting,” Kolarek said. “It is close to home, it is close to the University of Maryland. Being from this area, sports is very important. The playoffs would be huge for the whole area.”

But the Nationals have to get there first.

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