There's not really much point in making any definitive statements about a team or individual players until Memorial Day comes around.
The first month of the MLB season is too dependent on variables like hot/cold streaks or weather (as was the case this year more than ever).
Typically it takes two months (about 1/3 of the season) to be able to draw any conclusions.
The Cubs went 14-13 in May, which was actually buoyed by winning 4 of the last 5 games of the month. (They were 16-10 in March/April.)
But they actually had a +46 run differential over the 27 games in May, better than the +36 run differential in March/April.
The point: One month is still a short enough time to be impacted by luck. A team with a +46 run differential should not be just one game above .500.
Some other numbers from May compared to March/April:
The offense woke up, hitting .273/.356/.457 (.814 OPS) in May compared to a .252/.334/.412 (.746 OPS) in March/April. They averaged 5.3 runs/game in May compared to 5.1 runs/game pre-May.
The pitching staff posted a 3.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in May, tiny increases over a 3.33 ERA/1.31 WHIP in March/April. They also still walked the same amount of batters per 9 innings (4.2) in each month.
Which leads us to the first thing we learned this month:
1. Maybe this is just who this Cubs team is.
The pitching staff still struggles with walking far too many hitters. The offense is still good — but not great — and prone to slumps. There's still an issue hitting with runners in scoring position and getting guys home from third base with less than 2 outs. They are still prone to mental mistakes on the basepaths and in the field.
Maybe this is just an inconsistent team. They are still very young, after all.
That's one thing that we could've concluded about the Cubs in March/April that actually holds up now.
But then again, entering the game on May 1, the Cubs were coming off a 5-game winning streak and looking like they were about to break out.
The Cubs started May with 5 straight losses, then won 5 games in a row (against the Marlins and White Sox) and proceeded to continue along the roller coaster for the remainder of the month.
Though, one thing is for certain...
2. Anthony Rizzo is just fine.
The back issue that caused him to miss more than a week of action in April isn't lingering. He didn't suddenly forget how to hit.
Rizzo's splits per month:
.149/.259/.189 (.448 OPS), 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 15 K
.303/.408/.576 (.984 OPS), 5 HR, 28 RBI, 18 BB, 10 K
The BB/K is particularly impressive.
And as Rizzo got hot, so, too, did the Cubs offense (see above).
Another factor in the offensive upturn was the second half of Bryzzo...
3. You were really worried about Kris Bryant's power?
After Bryant hit just 2 homers in 26 games in March/April, some seemed to be concerned about the power output of the Cubs' best player.
Bryant responded in kind with 6 homers in May and a .536 slugging percentage.
He's fine and he's now a full month removed from a scary brush with a 97 mph fastball to the head.
As the weather continues to get warm on a consistent basis, watch as Bryant's power continues to flourish.
That being said, there is one thing to be concerned about with the Cubs offense...
4. Javy has gone full Javy.
Baez is still in the midst of a breakout season and woke up on the morning of June 1 still tied for the National League league in RBI (43).
He's on pace for 40 homers, 131 RBI and 101 runs this year.
But he didn't draw a walk until the final day of May and struck out 25 times over the month.
He went all the way from April 11 to May 31 without drawing a free pass of any kind (intentional or otherwise).
That lack of plate discipline led to a startling .274 OBP in May and thus a .769 OPS, which was better than only Addison Russell and Jason Heyward among Cubs regulars in May.
Baez needs to improve on his plate discipline or else teams will continue to throw balls out of the zone, thus decreasing the chances of Baez hitting the ball with authority (though not completely eliminating that percentage given his insane ability to hit balls a foot out of the plate into the bleachers).
Still, if Baez is going to have a true breakout season, he can't continue to have months with a 1:25 BB:K ratios.
Though the Cubs are boosted by the fact that...
5. Albert Almora Jr. is truly in the midst of a breakout campaign.
Almora continued to flash awe-inspiring, Gold Glove defense in May while taking another step forward at the plate. He hit .338 over the course of the month (tops among Cubs regulars) with an .850 OPS.
He struck out just 10 times, helping to lend a different dimension to a Cubs offense that is trying to limit the whiffs and "move the baseball" more, to borrow one of Joe Maddon's favorite phrases.
Almora has emerged as the team's clear top choice in center field, though...
6. Ian Happ isn't destined for Triple-A, after all.
Fans and media alike were clamoring for Happ to be sent to the minors to figure out his swing, but he instead responded with a .981 OPS in May, posting a .400 OBP and .581 SLG despite a .226 AVG.
He still struck out 28 times, but that's just part of the roller coaster the Cubs are content to ride, in part because...
7. Ben Zobrist is still in 2016 form.
Maddon's favorite choice for the Cubs leadoff spot (against right-handed pitchers, at least) walked 13 times in May and struck out just 12. He hit a big homer Thursday night in New York and posted an .803 OPS and .367 OBP throughout the entire month.
However, that still pales in comparison to the numbers he put up in May 2016 (.406/.483/.653, .1.137 OPS, 6 HR, 25 RBI).
Zobrist is looking healthy and as important to the Cubs' offense as he was in 2016, though in a bit of a diminished capacity. He is 37, after all.
Then again, there's one part of this team that's certainly not in 2016 form:
8. The starting rotation is still a major issue, but there are reasons for optimism.
The Cubs are still doling out far, far too many walks as a pitching staff, though a lot of that can be attributed to Tyler Chatwood (23 BBs in just 19.2 IP in May).
Chatwood, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana have caused a lot of concern in Cubdom, and rightfully so.
In 2016, the Cubs rotation was performing at a record-setting level as they got out to a ridiculous start and coasted into the postseason.
That won't happen in 2018 — that much is clear — but here is the reason for optimism:
ERAs in May
Jon Lester - 2.70
Jose Quintana - 3.09
Kyle Hendricks - 3.26
That's right, everybody: Quintana was second among Cubs starters in ERA in May.
The ERA doesn't tell the whole story (he still had a 1.40 WHIP in the month), but Quintana is showing much-needed signs of life in the rotation.
He tossed 6 shutout innings in New York Thursday night, which was actually his 5th start in the last 7 in which he's allowed 1 or fewer earned runs.
Which brings us to the final thing we learned about the Cubs in May:
9. This team is still waiting for something to flip the switch, but we know what that "something" is now.
It's the rotation getting into a groove on a consistent basis. We saw that in the 5-game win streak to end April as the offense failed to score more than 3 runs in any of those games.
But that was just one turn through the rotation.
In order to fully go on a run and avoid the roller coaster season the Cubs have been on to date, they'll need consistent performances from the Cubs rotation.
Which means Chatwood needs to figure his stuff out and Darvish needs to get healthy and get right — both mentally and physically.
Until Darvish returns, Mike Montgomery looks to step in and take advantage of his opportunity in the rotation, which he responded to very well in Pittsburgh on Memorial Day.
This rotation is the key and a Quintana turnaround could mean good things moving forward into June.