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Max wraps his first half with 12th win for Nats

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

NEW YORK -- The past two nights at Citi Field have unfolded, perhaps predictably, into showcases of stuff. While their managers stumped for each to start next week's Midsummer Classic, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer spent the past two evenings providing a preview of what the game can provide: a double feature in the best the National League has to offer from the mound.

Wednesday was deGrom's turn. Scherzer's came Thursday, when the righty capped his stellar first half with seven gutsy innings in a 5-4 win over the Mets, a performance that supported his case to start next Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

View Full Game Coverage

NEW YORK -- The past two nights at Citi Field have unfolded, perhaps predictably, into showcases of stuff. While their managers stumped for each to start next week's Midsummer Classic, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer spent the past two evenings providing a preview of what the game can provide: a double feature in the best the National League has to offer from the mound.

Wednesday was deGrom's turn. Scherzer's came Thursday, when the righty capped his stellar first half with seven gutsy innings in a 5-4 win over the Mets, a performance that supported his case to start next Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

View Full Game Coverage

"I don't want to be biased, but Max should get it," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said, a day after Mets skipper Mickey Callaway lobbied for his ace. "He deserves to start that game."

Though not his sharpest outing to date, Scherzer's night Thursday reinforced why. Backed by two home runs from Anthony Rendon and a crucial two-run insurance shot from Bryce Harper, Scherzer allowed three runs and struck out five to notch his 12th win, tied for tops in the NL.

Video: WSH@NYM: Harper drives a 2-run homer to right field

Scherzer is slated to finish the first half leading in a slew of other categories, including innings, strikeouts, WHIP and batting average against, while trailing only deGrom in ERA.

"He's one of the best in baseball, if not the best. Cy Young out there, doin' his thing," Harper said. "If there is a guy I want out there every fifth day, it's either Max Scherzer or Jacob deGrom. I'll take either of those two any day of the week."

Whether it is deGrom or Scherzer who fires the first pitch for the NL next week will be decided by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is set to lead the Senior Circuit squad. Scherzer acknowledged deGrom's credentials and declined to lobby for himself. But many factors are in his favor, given his pedigree, performance and the fact that the game will take place at Nationals Park. Such an honor would be the third for the six-time All-Star.

Video: WSH@NYM: Taylor steals 24th base to lead the Majors

"Knowing him," Martinez said, "he'd probably want to pitch the whole game."

The Nationals almost needed Scherzer, who has led the NL in complete games two out of the past three seasons, to do so on Thursday. And perhaps he could have, had he not allowed a solo home run to Kevin Plawecki in the seventh, after Harper's two-run shot provided a three-run cushion in the top half of the inning.

After Scherzer left, Asdrubal Cabrera's solo homer off Kelvin Herrera made things tighter in the eighth. Ryan Madson then danced around a leadoff single in the ninth to secure his fourth save, and first in place of Sean Doolittle, who is sidelined with a foot injury.

Video: WSH@NYM: Madson induces a double play to notch save

But the Nationals had enough rope to play with largely because of Scherzer, who pitched with a lead all night after Rendon's two-run shot off losing pitcher Steven Matz in the first. Scherzer completed at least seven innings for the 11th time this season; the Nationals are 14-6 when he starts.

"I've been pretty consistent giving the team a chance to win, pitching deep into ballgames," Scherzer said. "When you do that, it allows the rest of the team to get in place. That's what I pride myself on. … Regardless of my record, it's the team wins I'm focused on."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rendon, Harper carry the load: As they've both done consistently over the course of their careers, Rendon and Harper excelled in the comforts of Citi Field. Rendon followed his two-run homer in the first with a solo shot in the third, and Harper skied a two-run shot off Jerry Blevins in the seventh. Rendon has now gone deep 10 times at Citi Field, his most at any visiting park. Harper has done so 12 times, his second-highest total at any opposing venue.

Video: WSH@NYM: Rendon belts 2 homers in first 2 at-bats

Herrera escapes: Martinez had a pregame conversation with Herrera, who'd been tasked with the ninth in Doolittle's absence, to inform the righty he'd face the top of the Mets' order on Thursday, regardless of inning. A few hours later, he was summoned in the eighth, with Brandon Nimmo, Cabrera and Jose Bautista due up in a two-run game.

In one inning, Herrera allowed Cabrera's homer and walked two before getting Wilmer Flores to pop out and fanning Matthew den Dekker. Herrera has now walked six and allowed five earned runs in 10 appearances since the Nationals acquired him from Kansas City. Martinez said his club's late-inning alignment remains fluid -- Herrera and Madson will be deployed based on matchups going forward.

Video: WSH@NYM: Herrera fans den Dekker to strand 2 in 8th

SOUND SMART
Harper is now 4-for-12 (.333) with two home runs and four walks in his career against Blevins, the Mets' top left-handed specialist. This season, he's 2-for-2 with a walk and four RBIs in their head-to-head matchups.

HE SAID IT
"When there, I'm in those kill counts, and I'm executing pitches out of the zone, and there is contact, I win. … I don't live and die by the strikeout. I can make pitches and get guys out." -- Scherzer, who has compiled five or fewer strikeouts in three of his past four starts

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
A successful Nationals challenge helped truncate the Mets' first-inning rally off Scherzer, who allowed hits to two of the first three batters he faced. The third was Bautista, who dropped an RBI single into center field and appeared to advance to second after a Michael A. Taylor bobble. But umpires overturned the call following a review, halting New York's potential big inning in its tracks.

Video: WSH@NYM: Taylor cuts down Bautista on overturned call

UP NEXT
No hitter has faced Mets starter Noah Syndergaard more often than Harper since the righty debuted in 2015. Few have found more success against the flamethrower, either; Harper sports a .417 on-base percentage in 24 plate appearances vs. Syndergaard. Harper's next chance to build on that will come Friday, when Syndergaard returns from the DL to start a 7:10 p.m. ET tilt from Citi Field. Tanner Roark (3-11, 4.76 ERA) opposes for Washington, looking for his first win since June 6.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer