No surprise in NL East: It’s a grind so far

As expected, the NL East has been a grind so far.

The Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals are within five games of each other, with Philadelphia in first place at 19-14. Those four teams came into the season with high expectations , and given all the games they play against each other, it figured to be difficult for anyone to pull away. So far, that has been the case.

The Phillies beat Washington 7-1 on Sunday to widen their lead over the fourth-place Nationals. Philadelphia is 15-9 against the NL East, although that includes a 5-2 mark against the last-place Marlins.

The truth is, the top four teams in this fascinating division all have issues to worry about in the early going:

— The Phillies have been solid, but so far Bryce Harper is having a similar season to last year — decent overall numbers, but a low batting average. He’s hitting .233. Right-hander Nick Pivetta struggled so much, he earned a trip to the minors. Like in 2018, Philadelphia is near the bottom of the majors in defensive efficiency ratio.

— Atlanta’s pitching staff has a 4.29 ERA — and that’s with Max Fried (2.11) and Mike Soroka (1.14) off to terrific starts. Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz have had a rough go of it so far.

— The Mets have been outscored by 23 runs on the season and have allowed the second-most runs in the National League. That’s startling, given how much they expect from their top two starters.

— The Nationals have the worst ERA in the NL, and a few members of the bullpen have put up some truly ugly numbers. As for the everyday lineup: injuries to Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon aren’t helping.

Elsewhere around the majors:

SPARKLING

Heading into Sunday’s games, Detroit’s Matthew Boyd led all major league pitchers in the fangraphs.com version of wins above replacement. His success does not appear to be a fluke. Boyd has a 3.05 ERA and is also among the big league leaders in strikeouts.

The 28-year-old Boyd has been a bright spot for the rebuilding Tigers, but he might also be expendable if he continues to pitch well and improve his value. Detroit has its share of pitching prospects who are showing promise. Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, threw a no-hitter in his Double-A debut last Monday.

That was actually the second no-hitter in six days for Detroit’s Erie affiliate. Alex Faedo, another recent first-round draft pick, started a combined effort the previous Wednesday.

HIGHLIGHT

It was a milestone moment in Arizona on Tuesday night when CC Sabathia of the Yankees reached 3,000 strikeouts. Sabathia was only the third left-hander to make it to that mark, joining Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton.

LINES OF THE WEEK

There’s plenty to choose from this week:

Among the hitters, Ryan Braun had six hits Saturday night, including a two-run single in the 18th inning that gave Milwaukee a 4-3 win over the Mets.

Among the pitchers, Kyle Hendricks threw a four-hit shutout on just 81 pitches Friday when the Cubs beat St. Louis 4-0.

Then there was Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, who threw a shutout Thursday and homered for the game’s only run in a 1-0 victory over Cincinnati.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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